The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had “principally agreed” to the formation of a ‘Special Investigation Team’ (SIT) comprising senior officials from federal and elite intelligence agencies to probe alleged rigging in last year’s general elections before talks broke down with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on Sept 8, Pakistan Today has learnt.
The PML-N and PTI had reached agreement on 13 points whereas the two sides were yet to make a breakthrough on four points when the dialogue process stalled in wake of PTI’s stance of not backing down from its core demand of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation.
In recent press conferences, Finance Minister Dar had insisted that there was no room for including ISI and MI officials in the rigging probe, but that the Judicial Commission (JC) could seek help of the intelligence agencies if it deemed necessary. The PTI leadership had challenged Dar’s claim, saying the government was backtracking from its commitment that a SIT would be constituted which would be put under the control of the JC and the Commission would determine the scope of its working.
Of the 13 points agreed between the two sides, the PML-N had agreed ‘in principle’ to the constitution of a ‘Special Investigation Team’ (SIT) comprising senior officers of federal and other investigative agencies and instrumentalities (including, without limitation, the FIA, NADRA, ISI, MI, IB) under the control of the Judicial Commission (JC) which shall operate as the ‘investigative arm’ of the JC. It was also agreed that the JC shall determine the scope of work of the SIT. PML-N had also agreed to the proposal regarding the balanced composition of the SIT and that the head of the SIT would be appointed after consultation with PTI.
The two sides had agreed that establishment of the Judicial Commission (JC) under a specially enacted statute in the form of an Ordinance (rather than the Pakistan Commission of Enquiry Act, 1956) is the way forward. The PML-N government agreed to promulgate an Ordinance, subject to prior consultation with other political parties in Parliament for which the PTI and PML-N agreed that PML-N would have a period of seven (7) days and that the Ordinance would be promulgated 7 days from the date on which the accord is signed between the two parties. It was further agreed that the ordinance would be finalised after consultation with the PTI.
Agreement was reached that the JC must comprise a panel of three judges of the Supreme Court with the judges to be nominated by the Chief Justice of Pakistan. It was also agreed that PML-N and PTI would be pleased if the Chief Justice decides to head the JC personally. It was agreed that to fully empower the JC it would have all the powers of a civil and criminal court under the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, respectively. There was also broad agreement on the ‘procedure’ to be adopted by the JC. However, the precise language could not be agreed to. The position of PTI was that the JC shall follow such procedure, including summary procedure, as it deems fit in the interest of justice so as to enable the JC to complete its enquiry and give its report as expeditiously as possible and in any event within 45 days of its first meeting.
The PML-N and PTI agreed that the JC shall perform its functions in a just, fair and transparent manner. PML-N agreed that, simultaneously with the establishment of the SIT, non-controversial, non-partisan professionals shall be appointed as heads of NADRA, FIA and Secretary ECP shall also be replaced after consultation with PTI after fulfilling requirements of ‘due process’.
Agreement was broadly reached that the JC shall give its report as expeditiously as possible and preferably within 45 days of first meeting. However, agreement on the precise language could not be reached. The differences related to whether the provision in the Ordinance should emphasise whether the JC must give its report ‘in any event no later than 45 days as proposed by PTI or as PML-N suggested only ‘preferably within 45 days’.
Agreement was also reached that if any dispute or disagreement arises in relation to implementation of the accord (setting out the agreed terms between PTI and PML-N and signed by their respective chairmen) that it would be referred to a Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) comprising three representatives each from PML-N and PTI.
The PML-N had also agreed that the consequences of a final report from the JC containing an affirmative determination of the TOR shall be: (a) dissolution of the National Assembly in terms of Article 58(1) and (b) appointment of a caretaker cabinet in accordance with the constitution in consultation with all concerned parties, including the PTI.
It was also accepted by PML-N that the terms of agreement reached with PTI would be incorporated into the Ordinance.
POINTS OF DISAGREEMENT:
However, the two sides were not able to reach agreement on the specific “Terms of Reference” for the Judicial Commission, or in other words the “test” or “definition” of “rigging and manipulation”, as each side proposed its own language.
There was also disagreement on whether the JC may reach its determination by examining a sample of a reasonable number of constituencies of the National Assembly, being not less than 40, having regard to the time period prescribed for completion of its investigation.
The PML-N and PTI negotiating teams could also not agree on whether the ‘Terms of Reference’ for the JC should include an illustrative list of ‘factors’ to be considered by the JC as part of its investigation. There was also difference on opinion on the PTI proposal that the JC make its determination “on the basis of reasonable evidence and the totality of the factors, occurrences, and events brought before it”. Conversely, the PML-N insisted that the threshold of evidence be “proof beyond reasonable doubt”.
TALKS FROM SATURDAY:
While news channels reported that PTI’s Asad Umar and Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal will hold a preparatory meeting along with their respective legal advisers on Sunday to discuss modalities for the talks, sources privy to details told Pakistan Today that the formal round of talks would begin on Saturday (today) as PTI Secretary General Jahangir Tareen had returned from Britain and would lead the talks.
Tareen, known as a hardliner in PTI circles, is expected to dig in heels over the party’s demand for immediate setting up of the judicial commission and implementation of all points agreed during the earlier meetings with the government team.
Political observers believe that the PTI has gained ground by staging two successful shows in Faisalabad and Karachi, and the party was now in a better position to negotiate its terms with the government.
“I think that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar miscalculated PTI’s strength. After Imran Khan’s successful power shows in Faisalabad and Karachi the government is now in a weaker position,” said a political commentator.
Sources in the PML-N, asking not to be named, told Pakistan Today that the government’s committee had finalised its draft regarding the formation of the Judicial Commission and it would be handed over to the PTI team during their meeting.
The sources said that the government side would urge the PTI to cancel its protest campaign as a confidence-building measure, and that both sides should refrain from making controversial statements against each other.
Commenting on the evolving situation, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the party could consider ending its sit-in protest in Islamabad if the government establishes the proposed Judicial Commission as agreed between the two sides.
PTI leader Asad Umar was less optimistic about the cancelling of the party’s protest scheduled in Lahore on Dec 15 (Monday), saying he did not see a breakthrough in talks so soon.
Pakistan Today could not reach the government’s spokesperson for comments.