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38% attendance in National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs; 

23 Julie 2011 02:56:52

38% attendance in National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs;


Just 17 meetings during 2008-2011; corresponding committees in Indian and UK Parliaments held 52 and 82 meetings in the period respectively;


Only one meeting since US operation on May 2 and that too to meet the British Ambassador to Afghanistan


PILDAT analysis reveals that the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs charged with the responsibility to oversee Pakistan’s foreign affairs in such turbulent times does not have much preference or time to ponder over Pakistan’s foreign policy outlook and its challenges or nudge government to conduct its regional and international affairs in keeping with Pakistan’s interests. The analysis is presented in a Citizens Report on the Performance of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs during the past 3 years released by PILDAT on Friday.


While Pakistan continued to face challenges ranging from ever-complex Pak-US relations to Pak-India relations in the aftermath of Mumbai attacks, the National Assembly Standing Committee only met for17 times during 3 years, 59 per cent of the times (10 out of 17) only to meet visiting delegates. It is of particular importance that the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs held no meeting related to the unilateral US operation into Pakistan on May 2 and the resultant stress into Pak-US relations. While the Committee did convene on June 6, 2011, after a gap of nearly 6 months in the all-important period in which both Raymond Davis issue and May 02 raids took place among others, the meeting was held just to meet with the British Ambassador to Afghanistan.


The National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, which was formed on April 24, 2008, became functional after a period of 05 months on September 17, 2008 when the election of the chairman took place. The Committee only held 02 meetings during 2008-2009, 07 meetings during 2009-2010and 8 meetings to-date during 2010-2011. Corresponding committees in the Indian and UK Parliaments, held 52 meetings and 82 meetings during the same period respectively.


Attendance, which can be taken as a measure of the interest of the Parliamentarians in the working of a committee, provides worrisome statistics. The average attendance of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs stood at 38%, which means that in the majority of the meetings, more than half of the members were absent. The same holds true for the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Asfandyar Wali Khan, MNA, ANP (NA-9-Mardan-I), who also had an average attendance of 41% -the chairman was available to chair only 7 out of 17 meetings. Ms. Fouzia Habib, MNA, PPPP (NA-296, Punjab-XXIV), had the highest attendance among the members, i.e., she was present in 15 (88%) of the meetings held. Both Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, MNA, JUI-F (NA-26, Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), who is also the leader of JUI-F and Chairman Kashmir Committee, and Mr. Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, MNA, PML-N (NA-119, Lahore-II, Punjab) had the lowest attendance as they attended only 01 meeting (06%) each of the during three years. When contacted to verify this, Mr. Hamza Shahbaz maintained that he felt that participation in the Committee meetings was a waste of time when the Parliament was not able to implement its joint resolution on national security passed in October 2008. He maintained that the Chairman was himself not present to chair the meetings. He also felt that his time was better spent in being in his constituency addressing issues of his constituents. Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman’s office did not return to PILDAT.


It is important to note that while committee membership includes political stalwarts including heads of political parties, their membership of the committee, whether sought by them or inducted by the Parliament, should have been based on the understanding whether their other engagements would allow sufficient time for them to lead the committee in effective discharge of its functions.


In comparison, the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, which became functional after Senate Elections of March 2009, on May 06, 2010, a delay of nearly 14 months, held 11 meetings during the year 2010-2011 which is 38% more than the number of meetings held by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs during 1 year. Furthermore, the Senate Committee presented 3 reports during the 2010-2011 compared to zero (0) reports presented by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs during the past three years. The UK Foreign Affairs Committee published a total of 32 reports during the same period, i.e., 08 in 2008-2009, 11 in 2009-2010 and 13 in 2011-2012. Similarly, the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs, India tabled 12 reports during these three years.


It must be noted that the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, under the chairmanship of Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, had set new traditions of Parliamentary influence and oversight of foreign policy by holding regular meetings, 33 in 4 years, and documenting and making publicly-available 24 reports of the Committee during 2004-2008.

The ruling PPPP which has 37.5% of the membership of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs with 6 members out of a total of 16, fared the best among the political parties in terms of attendance, with an average attendance of 55%, followed by PML-N with an average attendance of36%. The yearly comparison of the available data suggests that for 2009-2010, the average attendance for the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs was 40%, while the same for the Committee on External Affairs, Indian Parliament and Foreign Affairs Committee of the UK House of Commons was 51% and 77% respectively. Similarly in 2010-2011, while the average attendance for the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs was 37%, in comparison Indian and UK Parliament’s corresponding committees had average attendance of 40% and 84% respectively.


Foreign Affairs Committees of the Parliament are generally regarded as among the most important and prestigious and their performance is regarded as crucial to the Parliamentary oversight of the executive. These committees usually display greater activism by inviting and questioning the foreign policy establishment in the country and subjecting them to probing questions.


It is also very common that foreign relations committees invite foreign relations experts and seek their comments on the foreign policy. Inter-parliamentary Union, a Geneva-based representative body of the world Parliaments of which Pakistan is also a member, considers Parliament’s role in Foreign Policy so important that it has included this role as one of the six major functions of a Parliament in its tool kit to evaluate the Performance of the Parliaments. The National Assembly of Pakistan had scored 37 % and44 % for its ‘involvement in international policy’ in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 respectively as per the evaluation carried out by a 32-member committee consisting of 16 multi-party MNAs and 16 other citizens convened by PILDAT in May 2010.