Treasury, opposition trade barbs in NA over march

Published: November 9, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Friday witnessed another day of heated exchanges between the treasury and the opposition benches, while a no-confidence motion was moved against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri.

Resuming the session after a day of pandemonium on Thursday, the lower house of parliament again descended into ruckus, when Defence Minister Pervez Khattak rose to speak about the opposition’s ‘Azadi March’.

Khattak, who is also head of the government’s team for talks with the march leaders, was repeatedly disrupted by the opposition lawmakers. “Today, I want to speak from the bottom of my heart, would you listen?” he told the house.

“Please listen. This show cannot continue,” he urged the opposition lawmakers in the house. “The marchers would have to be patient. Sit [in protest] as long as you wish but do not harm the country,” he added.

Speaking about a statement of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who is leading the ‘Azadi March’, the defence minister said: “If Fazl calls jirga a pastime, then [we say that] we are also killing time with you”.

Khattak defended the steps taken by the government in recent months. “Nobody can stop us from issuing ordinances. Has the opposition not read the Constitution? The Constitution permits the issuance of ordinances,” he added.

The minister praised his cabinet colleague, Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Minister Ali Amin Gandapur, for challenging Fazl in the election. When Gandapur made the challenge, Fazl’s son, Maulana As’ad Mehmud, had immediately accepted it.

“Don’t back down now, I’m resigning right now and you should also resign. We can contest election tomorrow,” a charged As’ad said in a counter-challenge to the minister. “Announce you resignation right now.”

Responding to the statement, Gandapur said that he stood by his challenge. The JUI-F chief should apologise to the nation and end the sit-in, he said. “I am ready to contest against those who had been hurling allegation of rigging after their defeat.”

During the debate, senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Khawaja Asif came down hard on the treasury benches. “If the institutions were derailed, it will not just affect you and I, but also harm democracy.

Khawaja Asif then criticised Speaker Asad Qaiser, who is also part of the government’s negotiating team with the opposition’s Rehbar Committee over the ‘Azadi March’, saying that joining the government team was below his stature.

“Your [Speaker’s post] stature does not permit you to become part of the negotiating committee. “This is the government of newly-born [politicians]. These people are not friends, but enemies of [Prime Minister Imran Khan] Niazi.”

He also fired a broadside against Khattak, saying that the defence minister lacked courage to convey Fazl’s demands to the prime minister. “He is afraid that the prime minister might get angry, if he told him about Fazl’s demands,” Asif said.

Without mentioning the name of Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, who chaired Thursday’s session, Asif said the way the proceedings were conducted the other day, which saw 11 treasury bills passed by the house, did not augur well.

“Yesterday, the Constitution was violated. Yesterday, a man, disqualified over 65,000 bogus votes, insulted the chair and got 11 bills passed without any debate. The entire house is ashamed of the way the legislation was carried out,” he said.

Asif was referring to the decision of the election tribunal, which ordered de-seating of Suri on an election petition filed by his rival candidate. The court had also ordered re-election in Suri’s constituency. Suri, however, had challenged the verdict in superior courts and got stay order.

Communications Minister Murad Saeed, in his speech, launched the counter-attack on Khawaja Asif, saying that the former defence minister misstated facts about Qasim Suri’s votes. “Suri got 25,000 votes but he [Asif] alleged these were 65,000 votes,” he said.

“He [Asif] held Iqama [UAE permit]. He took oath in Pakistan [assembly] and worked abroad. When he was foreign minister, he called himself a liberal, but today, he is siding with Maulana Fazlur Rehman,” Murad Saeed charged.

Commenting on the passage of the bills on Thursday, the minister said that the opposition was not interested in the legislative business, rather it preferred debate on the production orders of their leaders detained over charges of corruption.

“No lawmaker from the opposition spoke about legislation or the agenda yesterday (Thursday),” he continued. “The demands for production orders for their detained leadership were made through points of order and no one talked about the [assembly] agenda.”

He said that the people of Pakistan were proud of Prime Minister Imran Khan for highlighting the true face of Islam at the United Nations and told the international community that Islam was a religion of peace and had nothing to do with terrorism.

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