ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Friday asked the government not to make any commitment on the terms of the Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) without bringing it to its notice.
The matter was raised in the upper house of parliament just two days before Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan’s sojourn to the Saudi capital for the formal launch of the alliance.
On Sunday, Khan will attend the first meeting of defence ministers of coalition countries, which will also outline the coalition’s “strategy, governance, activities and future plans”.
Speaking during points of public importance segment, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar said a few months ago, then defence minister Khawaja Asif had assured the house that the terms of reference for participation in the alliance would be placed before the Senate before taking any decision.
Babar said the military commander of the coalition has also been quoted as saying that the coalition encompasses four key areas – ideology, communications, counterterrorism financing and military to fight terrorism and to join other international security and peacekeeping efforts.
Each of these areas, particularly the one relating to ideology, would have far-reaching consequences for Pakistan, Babar said. He demanded clarity on the issues involved and laying of facts before Parliament.
Endorsing Babar’s contention, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani said that then defence minister Khawaja Asif, who is now the foreign minister, had assured that the Senate would be taken on board before joining any venture with the Saudi-led military alliance.
The alliance was announced in December 2015 and has 41 members. Pakistan was part of the initial list of 34 countries to join the coalition. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will inaugurate Sunday’s defence ministers’ meeting.
FTAs with China
During discussion on an adjournment motion by Atique Sheikh of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), senators belonging to different parties demanded of the government to review the free-trade agreements (FTAs) with China.
Lamenting the non-profitability of the FTAs and non-utilisation of concessions granted by China, the senators said that it was not the job of federal secretaries to thrash out these deals, rather the real stakeholders should be taken on board before finalising such agreements.
At present, Senator Mohsin Leghari pointed out, the Pakistan-China trade is worth $12.2 billion but Islamabad’s share in it is merely $1.6 billion.
He noted that despite an FTA, China has imposed 3.7% regulatory duty on Pakistan’s main export –cotton-related items. He added that for the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) the duty is just 0.4% and 3.5% for India, which has no such agreement.
For Pakistan’s rice, he continued, the duty is 65% but for Asean countries, it is just 33%. He warned that the duties might increase trade deficit after inception of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Senators Azam Musakhail, Kalsoom Parven, Atique Sheikh, Javed Abbasi, Farhatullah Babar and others also spoke on the matter. The relevant minister will give the policy statement on the issue on Monday.
FIA report on PECA
The Senate chairman ordered the government that a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) report on implementation of Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 be laid in the house and thereafter referred to the relevant committee for an in-camera discussion.
He directed the government to provide complete information during the in-camera proceedings of the committee. The ruling also directed the government to formulate rules for preparing the report and present in the house in 30 days.
The ruling came after discussion that the FIA report could be laid in open house or treated as classified document to be discussed in an in-camera meeting of the I&T committee of the Senate.
Earlier the chairman sought opinion of opposition leader Aitzaz Ahsan and senators Javed Abbasi, Barrister Saif and Farhatullah Babar on how to deal with the report in view of the ambiguity in the language of the act.
The lawmakers, belonging to both sides expressed dismay over the absence of senators, during voting on the delimitation bill, which is pending before the house for more than a week. They were unanimous that the parliament may lose the opportunity of holding elections on time the lawmakers continued with the attitude.
Chairman Raza Rabbani evaded a request from some members to play a role to help end the sit-in staged by clerics at one of the most import junctions of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad for around three weeks.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Najma Hameed and Sheikh Atique of MQM-P said people from all walks of life face serious hardships due to the protest sit-in and requested the chairman Senate to use his office to find a solution to the problems.
Senator Hameed said that she had to leave Rawalpindi for Islamabad too early to attend the Senate session on time.
A visibly helpless Rabbani read out an adjournment order with a smile, saying: “Just for Najma Hameed, the house is adjourned to meet again on Monday at 4pm instead of 3pm so that she could attend the session on time”.