ISLAMABAD: The opposition PML-N sharpened attacks on military leadership, accusing it of a back-scratching alliance with the civilian government, during budget debate in the National Assembly on Tuesday, ignoring the ruling PPP’s urging against targeting “our own institutions”.
It was the second successive day that the role of top generals, particularly vis-à-vis the so-called war on terror, came under scrutiny in the lower house after opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had muffled his criticism in innuendoes while opening the debate on Monday.
But another PML-N frontbencher, Khwaja Mohammad Asif, was more outspoken on Tuesday, when he attacked what he called the “convergence of interests” of the civilian and military leaderships to promote American rather the country’s interests and said the two sides seemed to be in an arrangement of “you scratch my back and I scratch yours”.
His strongly-worded speech seemed to compensate for a comparatively soft line taken by the opposition leader on Monday that signalled a cooling of tempers after a noisy rumpus by his party during Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh’s budget speech on Friday.
Khwaja Asif even questioned the lifestyle of top generals using expensive limousines, comparing them with some of the sub-continent’s moghul emperors going to battlefield in palanquins.
“The chiefs of staff who travel in cars worth eight crore rupees each cannot fight,” said the lawmaker from Sialkot, apparently referring to the scene of the Navy chief of staff coming to the Mehran naval base of Karachi in a BMW soon after last month’s deadly attack by militants.
Former water and power minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who is also the secretary-general of the PPP’s electoral wing PPP-Parliamentarians, advised the opposition to refrain from defaming “our own institutions”, while concluding his speech on the budget he had began on Monday night, with repeated calls to political parties to avoid confrontational politics and rather become an impregnable wall against any attack on democracy.
MQM parliamentary leader and Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Farooq Sattar, in his speech on the budget, ridiculed Khwaja Asif’s remarks about the civilian and military leaderships scratching each other’s backs and said those making such allegations must also be scratching somebody else’s back.
Khwaja Asif accused the government of doing little for people’s welfare during over three years of its life and degrading parliament by disregarding its resolutions and called for discarding the country’s present “security paradigm” to transform it into an economically viable state rather than a security state.
Mr Sattar, whose party had withdrawn from the government following a controversy over higher petroleum prices and general sales tax reforms proposed last year, said the new budget did not meet people’s needs and wishes but “only a budget like this could be made within the limits of available resources”.
He described existing economic malaise as the greatest danger to the country’s security and called for wide-ranging restructuring to bring in more revenues to end deficit like “taxing all taxable income”, and with a refrain that “egg has to be broken to make an omelette”.
Former federal minister Jahangir Khan Tareen of the government-allied PML-F mainly pleaded the cause of the farming community, which he said was already paying existing levies on their taxable holdings and would be ready to pay more if a transparent system were devised and 80 per cent of these revenues were spent within the district of their generation.
He demanded amendment of a law that exempts even big amounts of remittances from abroad from income tax, saying a lacuna was being used to whiten local black money.
A PML-N backbencher, Mohammad Baligh-ur-Rehman, called for a special package for southern Punjab to compensate for the neglect of the past over 60 years, with special attention to the former princely state of Bahawalpur.
He said people of Bahawalpur would like to have a separate province of their own rather than become part of a proposed Seraiki province if new provinces were created in the future.