Senate chief fumes at in-camera briefing leak

Rabbani reprimands senators who volunteered details on talk shows

Our Correspondent December 20, 2017
Senate chairman Raza Rabbani. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani expressed displeasure at the way details of an in-camera meeting of the Senate’s Committee of the Whole House addressed by the Chief of Army Staff the other day were leaked.

Senators belonging to both treasury and opposition benches appeared on television talk-shows and volunteered details of the in-camera briefing, ignoring the fact that it was a secret session.

This earned the ire of the Senate chairman who reprimanded the senators concerned and drew their attention towards rules 250 and 253 that barred lawmakers from disclosing details of any secret briefing.

Rabbani recalled that he had told senators about this before the briefing but lawmakers did not comply.

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Emphasising that his observations did not mean that he was against the freedom of the press, he said that it was media’s job to gather information about any event, but the way senators divulged information was inappropriate.

The Senate chief referred the matter to the house’s business advisory committee.

Meanwhile, a government minister admitted that the pact to end Faizabad sit-in was ‘flawed and unusual’.

“It (agreement) was full of flaws. The government was forced to sign it to restore peace in the country,” State Minister for Interior Talal Chaudhry said while winding up the debate in this regard.

Wednesday’s proceeding was marked by the presence of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who attended the Senate session the second time since assuming office.

During his 15-minute stay, he briefed the Senate about provincial oversight of petroleum and gas policies.

Talal Chaudhry, however, criticised political parties for not supporting the government during the entire Faizabad sit-in episode, opting to play the role of silent spectators.

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“Because of this, the government retreated to politically and morally weak grounds and was left with no option but to sign the agreement,” he said.

He pointed out that the government had successfully managed sit-ins staged by PTI and PAT in 2014 because all opposition parties supported the government’s stand.

The state minister said that protesters violated the promise they had made with the Punjab government before marching towards Islamabad. But, he said, the operation against protesters failed because of weak coordination between administrations of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. He also shared details of law-enforcement officials injured during the operation.

PPP’s Senator Farhatullah Babar warned against any secret move to mainstream militant organisations, saying that this could spell disaster for peace in the region.

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“The government must come clean and place all the facts before Parliament for discussion.”

Speaking on an issue of public importance, Babar said that he had no proof but several recent strange occurrences lent credence to the suspicion that something was afoot.

He said that allowing banned outfits to participate in the by-elections in NA-120 and NA-4 constituencies, the emergence of Milli Muslim League, JuD’s declaration of entering into electoral politics and the suspicious silence over the fate of Ehsanullah Esan, the self-confessed murderer of children and teachers in APS, Peshawar indicated that something was wrong.

Mainstreaming militants involved in the killing of innocent people and launching deadly attacks in neighbouring countries would be seen as acts of provocation with disastrous consequences, he warned.

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He said that elements hostile to Pakistan would immediately seize upon this opportunity and accuse Islamabad of lending legitimacy to violent non-state actors.

He also drew the attention of lawmakers towards the shrinking space for civil society organisations and said that any policy on NGOs should be based on laws and not executive orders.

Regretting the enlargement of security agencies footprint in dealing with NGOs, he said that members of civil society, who drew power from freedoms of association and expression, were valuable partners and not a threat to the state.

He said that the statement filed by the minister of state for interior in the Senate two days ago and the formal reply filed on a question in Senate on Thursday proved that secret agencies decided which NGO was allowed to work.

“Entrusting the task of registration to police or secret agencies is like asking the wolf to guard the lamb,” he said.

He said that it had been claimed that the policy was based on Senator Fatemi’s report but the report was never made public.


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