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Government, Opposition Face Off Over NAB, FATF Bills

by Newsweek Pakistan

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Incumbent rulers claim opposition is ‘blackmailing’ state by linking NAB and FATF bills

Leaders of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) on Tuesday walked out of talks with the government to evolve consensus on draft legislations, with both sides accusing each other of acting against the national interest.

Addressing a press conference with PPP leader Sherry Rehman, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of the PMLN said the talks had revolved around four bills—amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997; the United Nations Security Council Act 1948; the NAB Ordinance 1999; and the Mutual Legal Assistance bill.

“A committee of Parliament [to debate] these bills was formed and the government had proposed tabling all four of these simultaneously so they could be passed in the National Assembly before going onto the Senate,” he said, adding that the amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act were so “so frightening that we told [the government] that if it passed, then Pakistan would not remain a democracy but would turn into a horrible dictatorship.”

He said the government had withdrawn the bill after the opposition questioned it and had claimed it would reframe it.

Of the UNSC and Mutual Legal Assistance bills, said the former prime minister, the opposition had approved them after some amendments.

Amendments to the NAB Ordinance 1999, claimed Abbasi, were the point of friction, adding that it was the same as had earlier been presented and rejected by the opposition. “It had an addition that was totally against the law of evidence, so we told the government that it, too, was unacceptable,” he said, adding that the government had rejected the opposition’s point-by-point response.

“We told them we had put forth numerous amendments because there was a section-by-section debate [and asked them] which amendment do you not agree with? They did not have a response to that,” he said, adding that at that point the opposition had no choice but to walk out.

“Our decision now is that all [opposition] parties will consult… whatever talks take place should happen from the forum of the all parties conference,” he added.

Government response

In the National Assembly, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi claimed the talks had been initiated in the national interest. “Our goal is to break free from the [Financial Action Task Force’s] grey list. We have to carry out some legislation to get out of the grey list,” he said, adding there was a deadline to meet the FATF demands. However, they [opposition] “demanded the NAB bill be discussed at the same time and that it would be a package deal.” Abbasi denied this in a subsequent TV appearance.

Qureshi, however, claimed the opposition had demanded amendments to the NAB law at the same time, saying they would not proceed without it. He claimed that if the government had accepted the opposition’s changes to the NAB law, it would make the anti-graft watchdog “meaningless.”

“They suggested that the NAB investigate any corruption upwards of Rs. 1 billion,” he said. The Opposition also suggested that a person convicted by NAB should not be disqualified from being a member of Parliament, that five-year-old cases would not fall under NAB’s jurisdiction, that no arrests would be made until a trial had proven guilt, and that public office holders be sentenced to five years’ imprisonment instead of 10 if found guilty.

“We cannot support the Opposition’s proposals on amendments to the NAB Ordinance. They should reconsider their suggestions,” he said, claiming Prime Minister Imran Khan would never accept any concessions to the process of accountability.

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