ISLAMABAD: Opposition members, mainly from the Awami National Party (ANP), disrupted Senate proceedings on Tuesday over the government’s alleged plan to change the route of the Pakistan-China economic corridor.

The House witnessed two walkouts on the issue, which dominated the proceedings of the day.

The first walkout was led by Senator Abdul Rauf of the Pakhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party (PkMAP), which is a government partner in the ruling alliance at the centre as well as in Balochistan.

Also read: Changes in China corridor opposed

Independent senator Humayun Mandokhel, speaking on a point of order, declared that he had decided to withdraw his support for the government over the issue and requested Senate Deputy Chairman Sabir Baloch to allocate him a seat on the opposition benches.

Ahsan Iqbal says reports of route change are ‘propaganda’

Opposition Leader Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan then went over to Mr Mandokhel and brought him to the opposition benches amidst desk-thumping by the members.

Even though Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal categorically assured the house that the government had no plan to change the route of the economic corridor, opposition members refused to believe him when he said that China wanted Pakistan to use existing roads for trade purposes as an interim arrangement until the completion of the project that could take three to four years.

After creating a ruckus, the opposition members, except for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), staged a walkout while Mr Iqbal was speaking and later sent ANP minority member Amarjeet to point out a lack of quorum.

At that point, the deputy speaker had no option but to adjourn the sitting until noon on Wednesday.

Two ANP senators – Haji Mohammad Adeel and Ilyas Bilour – speaking on a call-attention notice, threatened to oppose the project if the government insisted on changing the route of the corridor.

“The country will not remain united, if the route is changed,” warned an angry Bilour.

Haji Adeel declared that the party considered this a bigger issue than Kalabagh Dam and would forcefully oppose it with the support of nationalists in Sindh, Balochistan and KP and the depressed minority of Punjab’s backward areas.

The ANP senators alleged that the ruling PML-N, which has its power base in Punjab, was changing the original route of the Khunjerab-Gwadar economic route by excluding Dera Ismail Khan, Zhob and Mianwali from it. They claimed that the government now planned to include Lahore, Multan, Sukkur and Hyderabad in the route.

Haji Adeel said the original route was shorter, but it seemed the rulers did not want to see prosperity in the backward areas of KP and Balochistan.

Responding to the ANP senators, Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal termed the reports regarding change in the economic corridor “propaganda by forces that did not want to see improvement in Pakistan-China relations”.

Mr Iqbal said the Chinese president had to cancel his visit to Pakistan last year due to the PTI sit-in, adding that the same forces had again become active when the president was planning to visit the country.

The minister said that the government was considering using the existing infrastructure to benefit from trade with China and the Central Asian states during the “interim period” on China’s request.

Earlier, on a point of order, the PPP’s Saeed Ghani alleged that the federal government had planned to rig the forthcoming legislative council elections in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2015

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