ISLAMABAD: The focal issue of Pakistan’s role in the Yemen conflict took a momentary backseat as disgruntled lawmakers noisily protested first the prime minister’s absence and later the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s presence in Parliament at a joint session held today.
The subject of Pakistan’s response to Saudi Arabia’s request for assistance was broached after fits and starts, as rowdy lawmakers were chastised by the National Assembly speaker and prominent opposition lawmakers.
The opposition raised important questions on the subject of Pakistan’s role in the escalating discord in the Middle East. PPP Senator Aitzaz Ahsan took the lead in asking the government to clarify what it means by its assertion that Pakistan will support the kingdom if there is “a threat to Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity”.
"We are here to give you the mandate,” Ahsan said as the session resumed after adjournment. “But for that we need to be told clearly what exactly your stance is. Only then we will lend you the mandate you are seeking."
Aitzaz asserted that Riyadh, with its supreme air power, is capable of defending Saudi Arabian cities that are 2,000 kilometres from the war zone in Yemen.
"The House needs to be taken into confidence,” he demanded. "All diplomatic correspondence should be shared with us."
PTI's Shah Mehmood Qureshi agreed. "My view and Imran Khan's view is identical to Aitzaz Ahsan's," he said.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif in the morning session shared Saudi Arabia’s ‘wishlist’ of Pakistani combat planes, warships and soldiers.
Asif dubbed the Yemen debate a matter of ‘high national interest’ and said the security situation there has raised severe implications for Pakistan.
Urging the need for a peaceful solution, Asif said, “Pakistan remains a sincere and committed friend to Saudi Arabia. For both Turkey and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is a friend, a brother…both countries will stand by Saudi Arabia. We stand committed to extend support to Saudi Arabia."
He welcomed the guidance of elected members in the parliament and said the government believes in a collective decision made through a participatory discussion.
Asif reminded the assembly that Pakistan has fought the war on terror on its soil without help from another country. "Pakistan is fighting its war against terrorism on its own resources," he said.
"Pakistan is the only nation in the world that has taken on terrorism head on," he added.
At 9PM, Speaker of the National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq said the session would be adjourned till tomorrow (Tuesday) 11AM.
High drama in Parliament as PM joins late, MQM stages walkout
Speaker Ayaz Sadiq made desperate appeals for calm and quiet as the commotion in Parliament unfolded and lawmakers shouted slogans criticising Imran Khan and his party.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Farooq Sattar expressed his party’s strong reservations with the PTI’s participation in today’s session after the months long boycott and resignation from Parliament.
"The House has the authority to end membership of any lawmaker following his voluntary absence for 40 days,” Sattar said."Why are those who do not believe in the Constitution present here today?” he asked, dubbing the PTI a “stranger to Parliament”.
“If you admit workers who have resigned, then tomorrow the people who are sitting in the gallery, and the media should also be allowed in the assembly,” he said.
Later, the MQM walked out of Parliament to register its protest, and a team of federal ministers — comprising Qadir Baloch, Barjees Tahir and Riaz Peerzada — was sent by the Speaker to pacify the party.
In the morning session, lawmakers squabbled with government legislators over the absence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was tied up in engagements with visiting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.
After opening shortly at 11am, the joint session was adjourned for nearly three hours as legislators raised questions about the prime minister’s absence from the assembly.
While opposition leader Khursheed Shah welcomed the PTI’s attendance as a positive step and commended the NA Speaker for his patience on the resignation issue, he took strong exception to Nawaz’s absence in Parliament.
"I want to ask PM Nawaz to come and sit in the parliament and open the debate on the Yemen issue,” he said when the session opened this morning.
"There is joint responsibility... since all of parliament is present it is important for him to be present here," Shah said. "I understand he is busy, but he should have made time for an hour to attend the joint session.”
Shah’s request to the Speaker to adjourn the session till such time that the prime minister joins was accepted after Khawaja Asif briefed the lawmakers about his visit to Riyadh and Saudi Arabia’s expectations.
Nawaz later joined the session but did not address lawmakers. According to an official statement from the PM House, Nawaz held a meeting with senior civil and military officials including the army chief Raheel Sharif, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and foreign policy advisor to the PM Sartaj Aziz.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last week called for a joint session of Parliament as opposition leaders pushed for an All Parties Conference to debate whether Pakistan will accede to Saudi Arabia’s request for ground and air military assistance to counter the Houthi insurgency in Yemen.
The government has repeatedly said it has not yet committed sending troops to the conflict area but that it would confront any threat to Saudi Arabia’s “territorial integrity”.
However, the Saudi state media have been citing Pakistan as one of more than 10 states in the coalition before and after a high-level Pakistani civil and military delegation visited the kingdom last week to assess its military requirements.
Read: Pakistan committed to Saudi security, peaceful solution to Yemen crisis — Asif
End of live updates
National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq has adjourned the session till Tuesday 11am.
MQM joins session, opposes Pakistan's involvement in Yemen conflict
MQM lawmakers return to Parliament after they staged a walkout on PTI's presence in the House.
MQM MNA Farooq Sattar says, "Do we want to put Balochistan’s future at risk by joining a controversial war. We should be evaluating the long-term implications of our involvement in the war."
He asks whether preemptive strikes are justified. "So many countries including the Unites States and Israel are allowed to conduct preemptive strikes, which the Saudi-led alliance has also conducted in Yemen. Who can guarantee that tomorrow India will not take up preemptive strikes," says Sattar.
We have not been told details of any talks held by the prime minister with Saudi and Turkish leadership, says Sattar. "Is this assembly being used as a rubber stamp?"
"Saudi Arab has helped Pakistan in its time of need, especially in dealing with natural disasters. But that does not warrant our involvement in the conflict without due deliberation," says Sattar.
The MQM lawmaker goes on to say that the government should formulate a transparent strategy on the critical matter. Reciprocating Shah Mahmood Qureshi's stance, Sattar says no supranational body, including the UN and the OIC, has approved of the Yemen offensive.
Pakistan should look to form a "peace force" like it did in Somalia and we should be using the UN security council's platform to defuse the conflict, says Sattar. "Preemptive strikes are risky for they are prone to human error," he says.
"We do not want to be involved in any sort of war crime."
'Defence minister's statement is vague'
PTI's Shah Mahmood Qureshi says the defence minister has not given a clear picture of what requirements were laid out by the Saudi government in front of Pakistan's delegation. "What is the kind of help Saudi Arabia is looking for?"
"If our policy is interventionist, it has its own implications and the nation will have to understand what these implications are," says Qureshi.
"Can we fulfill the requirements put forward by Riyadh despite the fact that our forces are preoccupied in fighting the war against terrorism?" questions the PTI lawmaker.
He also asks whether there is a tangible security threat to Saudi Arabia. Qureshi goes on to question whether the Unites Nations has passed any resolution approving the Yemen offensive. "We have to make sure this offensive will not be seen as a war crime in the future," he says.
"Is there a military solution to a diplomatic problem? What’s happening in Yemen is a power struggle, which has been going on for decades," says Qureshi.
Qureshi says there is a lot that has not been passed on to the House. "Was Pakistan consulted before air strikes were launched in Yemen. Or were we just informed," asks Qureshi.
He says the conflict may take up a sectarian colour moving forward, and that serious deliberation is needed before formulating a final strategy on the matter. "We cannot escape from public opinion … we have to consider the wishes of the people of Pakistan before we take any decision."
"My view and Imran Khan's view is identical to Aitzaz Ahsan's," says Qureshi.
“Pakistan should call on all friends in the Middle East to ensure peace, prosperity and stability in the region, because instability has a direct impact on Pakistan," says Qureshi.
|Qureshi addressing the joint Parliament session.- DawnNews screengrab|
Fazl reciprocates Aitzaz Ahsan's demand of clarity
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, speaking in Parliament says, "It will not be wise to bring Pakistan-Iran relations in this issue. It is good that consultations are being done and that Turkey has also been involved in it."
"We need to be informed what agreements are to be made. "Helping Saudi is permissible ─ but what kind of help? How will Pakistan be affected by it? We need to analyse all these things so that we can move towards a better policy."
Fazl pushes for dialogue on the Yemen issue, saying that a large part of the Muslim world is in a state of war and Pakistan should play the role of a negotiator.
JUI-F boycotts the session after PTI's Shah Mahmood Qureshi is allowed to speak and its members walk out.
Imran Khan responds to criticism outside Parliament
While addressing a press conference outside the NA, PTI chief Imran Khan says "on one hand we are being requested to come back to the Parliament but on the other hand they humiliate us in the House."
Referring to Khawaja Asif's earlier remarks about PTI members, Imran Khan says, "The language used by a federal minister on the floor of the House was derogatory."
Khan says everyone admits elections were rigged. "This makes it obvious that the assembly is unconstitutional."
Khan says, "Why is MQM making an issue; even the ECP secretary admitted that they were unable to hold free and fair elections in Karachi."
The PTI chief appreciates Aitzaz Ahsan's speech saying "he made very valid points."
"I don’t know what agreement Nawaz has made with the Saudi government, but we have many serious issues in our own country, we cannot jump into another war," says Khan. He says he had come to the Parliament to debate Pakistan's role in Yemen.
"Nawaz Sharif should tell us honestly what agreement he has made ... I am afraid that Nawaz Sharif’s business interests will cause more problems for us," says Imran Khan.
"Saudi Arabia is our brother and Iran is our neighbor, we should try to resolve the issue through diplomacy rather than partaking in the war."
Fazlur Rehman lashes out at PTI
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman says, "Isn’t there any accountability for those who abuse the Parliament and violate the code of conduct?"
He says, once a resignation is submitted, there is no question of accepting or rejecting it.
'End war through diplomacy'
Aitzaz Ahsan says Nawaz Sharif should have tried to gather the Muslim Ummah over the issue. "We want to end war through diplomacy."
The PPP lawmaker says Pakistan, through its military power, has a strong position in the region. "We need to utilize this and work towards a diplomatic solution to end this crisis," says Aitzaz.
He endorses Khwaja Asif’s statement saying we have been fighting the war against terrorism on our own.
Aitzaz Ahsan closes his speech, emphasising on his earlier demand, that the government clearly state Pakistan's role in the Yemen conflict. "The House cannot be kept in the dark for long," says Aitzaz.
"All diplomatic correspondences should be shared with us," he says.
Aitzaz Ahsan asks government to clarify stance on Yemen
Aitzaz Ahsan says, the government has kept the House in confusion over the conflict in Yemen and Pakistan’s response over it. "It is not clear what is meant by 'threat to Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity'".
Aitzaz says to the government, "We are here to give you the mandate, but for that we need to be told clearly what exactly your stance is. Only then we will lend you the mandate you are seeking."
"People are saying that this is a proxy war, which is becoming a sectarian war. But I know this is not a sectarian dispute but a civil war which has been ongoing in Yemen for decades now."
He says, "Saudi Arabia's major cities are located at some 2000 kilometres from the war zone in Yemen. And Riyadh is capable enough, with its supreme air power, to defend this vast space of desert."
"The House needs to be taken into confidence. This will not be the first time Pakistan will take part in a war in the Gulf region — if it does take part. But then again, the government should come clear on this," says Aitzaz Ahsan.
|Aitzaz Ahsan speaking at the joint session.- DawnNews screengrab|
MQM walks out of joint session
MQM members walked out of the session in protest of PTI's presence in Parliament, as Farooq Sattar asserted PTI MNAs had no right to be there as they had tendered resignations last year.
Federal ministers Qadir Baloch, Barjees Tahir and Riaz Peerzada have been sent by the speaker to pacify the disgruntled lawmakers.
Aitzaz Ahsan chides parliamentarians for unruly behaviour
Senate opposition leader Aitzaz Ahsan says, "The government should show some flexibility rather than pointing fingers at everyone."
He says: "MQM and PTI might have an issue over NA-246 but other members must show some flexibility."
Ruckus in Parliament as lawmakers protest PTI's presence
MQM lawmakers shouted slogans in agreement with Farooq Sattar's view that PTI has no right to be in Parliament after tendering resignations.
Ayaz Sadiq intervenes, reading from a paper: "According to the order of Supreme Court it comes under my authority to inquire about the authenticity of resignation by every member who has resigned."
Khawaja Asif lashes out at PTI: " They [PTI] should show some morals; they had been abusing the same parliament where they are now present."
Farooq Sattar opens session by lambasting PTI
Continuing his criticism of the PTI, that today ended its seven-month boycott of the NA, MQM MNA Farooq Sattar says the PTI is a stranger to the Parliament.
He says, referring to the resignations of PTI MNAs, which the speaker did not accept: "The House has the authority to end membership of any lawmaker following his voluntary absence for 40 days."
MQM threatens to walk out of the session but NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, in an attempt to defuse the situation, says, "You cannot walk out until you have heard me out."
"Why are those who do not believe in the Constitution present here today," says Sattar.
Farooq Sattar's microphone was turned off.
Pakistan Hindu Council urges PM to send troops to SA
Patron-in-chief Pakistan Hindu Council and Member of National Assembly Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani has urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to send Pakistan Army troops to defend Saudi Arabia immediately.
The ruling party MNA added that contribution of Pakistan Army could be a game-changer in the current Middle East crises.
Dr Ramesh Vankwani, on behalf of Hindu community living across the country, emphasised that following the request of Saudi regime, presence of Pakistani troops within the geographic boundaries of Saudi Arabia for defence purposes would not be considered as the interference in the internal matters.
“The current foreign policy of Pakistan to not interfere in the internal matters of other countries is highly appreciated but in the current scenario, restoration of order in Yemen is most important for the promotion of talks and negotiations,” he said.
'MQM may boycott Parliament till explanation of PTI's presence'
|MQM leader Farooq Sattar — DawnNews screenrab|
Muttahida Qaumi Movement senior leader Farooq Sattar talking to journalists outside the National Assembly has said that the party may boycott and record the party’s protest until it was given an explanation regarding the attendance of PTI lawmakers in the Parliement.
“We are parliamentarians and until we can get a response over this we will continue to boycott and record our protest against this and if necessary will go to court as well,” Sattar said.
He said that the Constitution is being manipulated and added that, “We cannot break or bend the constitution as we please.”
“Speaker is the chief custodian and is violating the constitution and the house remains silent then this is turning democracy and the Constitution into a joke,” the senior MQM leader said.
“Today PTI members joined parliament, they are members who had submitted their resignations, and according to the constitution as soon an assembly member tenders his or her resignation it is considered as a resignation,” Sattar said.
He added that a formal announcement regarding the party's decision to boycott the Parliament would be made at 5pm.
Those making noise in Parliament are scared of probe: IK
|PTI Chairman Imran Khan talking to reporters after adjournment of joint session of Parliament. — DawnNews screengrab|
PTI Chairman talking to reporters, after adjournment of the joint session, said that “All those making noise today, they are scared of the probe into poll rigging as they know they will stand exposed.”
Imran Khan added that he stands by his stance that, “this is a rigged assembly, the difference now is that the judicial commission has been formed to probe the rigging.”
He added that if four constituencies had been opened earlier in 2014 as per the PTI demands then the party would not have taken to the streets.
Session adjourned till 5PM
NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq says the joint session will resume at 5PM.
"Whatever emerges from this house will be in favour of Pakistan," Asif says on conclusion of his speech.
The opposition had earlier requested that the session be adjourned till such a time that the prime minister can attend in this significant gathering that will determine Pakistan's role in the Middle East conflict.
Pakistan fought its war on terror alone
Khawaja Asif touches on the internal security situation of Pakistan, and says that Pakistan is the only country fighting terrorism alone.
"Pakistan is fighting its war against terrorism on their own resources," he says.
"Pakistan is the only nation in the world that has taken on terrorism head on," he adds.
Iran foreign minister to visit this week
Asif says that Iranian Foreign Minister will also visit Pakistan on April 8 (Wednesday) to discuss the Yemen conflict.
Iran is accused of supporting the Houthi insurgency to topple the President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi-led regime in Yemen.
"There is a need for coming to a peaceful solution," Asif reiterates. "The government will greatly appreciate guidance of elected members in the parliament."
Pakistan is a sincere friend of S Arabia: Asif
Khawaja Asif reiterates the government's view that if Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity is harmed, Pakistan will take its side.
"Pakistan remains a sincere and committed friend to Saudi Arabia," he says.
He adds that it is important for all influential figures of the Muslim Ummah to find a peaceful solution.
Referring to the premier's recent meeting in Turkey with state leaders, Asif says, " For both Turkey and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is a friend, a brother."
"Both countries will stand by Saudi Arabia, we stand committed to extend support to Saudi Arabia."
“Saudi Arabia has asked for combat planes, warships and soldiers,” Asif says.
Khawaja Asif opens Yemen debate
|"It is my proud privilege to introduce to the Parliament a topic of high national interest — the issue of Yemen," says Defence Minister Khawaja Asif.|
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif moves motion to discuss the Yemen conflict and apprises House on the evacuation of Pakistanis from war-torn Yemen.
"It is my proud privilege to introduce to the Parliament a topic of high national interest — the issue of Yemen."
"The grave security situation in Yemen has raised severe implications for Pakistan. Given the gravity of the situation PM Nawaz decided the subject merits in-depth discussion in the Parliament."
"The government of PML-N believes in collective decision made through a participatory discussion."
He says special PIA flights evacuated hundreds of Pakistanis in Yemen. "34 Pakistanis will be evacuated today," he adds.
Asif thanks the Saudi government for assistance in evacuations. "We are also thankful to China because of their help to Pakistanis from Aden who were transported to Djibouti and eventually Pakistan."
Joint session to continue
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar intervenes and says the session must continue. "The PM will eventually join this session but meanwhile facts should be discussed so the parliament can make up its mind."
'Where is the prime minister?'
Khursheed Shah says that the prime minister, who is currently with the visiting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, should have attended the joint session.
"I want to ask PM Nawaz to come and sit in the parliament and commence the debate on the Yemen issue."
"There is joint responsibility... since all of parliament is present it is important for him to be present here," Shah says.
"I understand he is busy, but he should have made time for an hour to attend the joint session. I request that he adjourns the session for an hour and a half so that the prime minister can come to this debate and the parliament's decision will have some weight."
Shah proposes the session be postponed to 4PM and go on till 8PM so the prime minister can attend.
"I understand that we have a good relationship with Sri Lanka but I request that we call this session at 3:30PM or 4PM and continue this session tomorrow as well. We understand the government's commitments but this session should be adjourned."
Khawaja Asif responds to this by saying that the session should continue and that the prime minister's meeting of the Sri Lanka leader was a scheduled visit.
A pat on the back for opposition
|Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah|
In his opening speech, Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah says he is happy that the sovereignty of the parliament has been secured.
“I want to add that some PTI members had arrived earlier… if today PTI members are attending it is a positive moment and credit goes to the opposition.”
He adds that fights should be resolved with talks on the table. “I want to praise opposition parties who have for the past months tried to resolve issues and now PTI is in the house.”
“Mr speaker I want to praise your patience as you did not accept those resignations and today they have joined parliament.”
“We welcome the PTI members and consider their return as a victory for democracy,” Shah says.
Sadiq responds, "The rules are very clear and I did not accept their resignation, they are like parliament members to me like the rest."
Speaker appeals for silence as Parliamentarians squabble
|Sardar Ayaz Sadiq appeals for calm|
NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq appeals to lawmakers to maintain silence and respect the leader of the opposition as he is about to speak.
There is a ruckus ahead of Syed Khursheed Shah's speech at the joint session, which Sadiq desperately tries to control.
"This is a very important debate which needs to be discussed," says the speaker while urging representatives to settle down.
"This is unacceptable [behaviour]. Have some respect for the leader of the opposition," he says. "I will have no choice but to adjourn the session [if this continues], please settle down."
|Imran Khan pictured in National Assembly after months of boycotting the Parliament to protest alleged rigging in the May 2013 election|
Zahid Khan hits out at Imran
|ANP's Zahid Khan|
Speaking outside the Parliament, ANP representative Zahid Khan criticised the PTI's seven-month boycott of the assembly. "Imran Khan does not know what he's doing. Why does he waste everyone's time?"
"The nation doesn't want politics based on falsehood," he says. "This slogan of bringing change... why was all this drama created?"
Addressing media representatives, Zahid Khan adds, "Your cameras were broken, violence was inflicted on you."
"I want to raise a question for the speaker, you are the custodian of Parliament, chairing the joint-session and if this is the principle you keep in this country then you have carried the casket of the Parliament, democracy and Constitution."
"The one who until yesterday declared this fake, with what audacity will he sit here [Parliament]."
Gen Sharif should decide on Yemen: Sheikh Rashid
Speaking to reporters outside the National Assembly, Chief of Awami Muslim League (AML) Sheikh Rashid says, “The decision on the involvement of Pakistani troops in the Yemen conflict has to be taken by General Raheel Sharif.”
When asked about the PTI’s decision to return to Parliament, Rashid says that when the PTI lawmakers had decided to submit their resignation many people had asked him why he had not done the same.
The AML chief said that he knew that his resignation would have taken a mere "20 seconds" but that he was "clever" about tendering it.
When asked whether Khan considers him a mentor, Rashid says, “No one is a teacher to another in this country, all politicians are 60-plus.”
Parliamentarians arrive at NA
On his arrival at the National Assembly premises, PTI Chairman Imran Khan tells reporters he will address them after the joint session. Yesterday, the PTI chairman said he is re-joining Parliament as the Yemen crisis is a grave issue and that his party's demand of a judicial commission to probe election rigging has been met by the government.
PTI leaders Shireen Mazari, Shafqat Mehmood and Muttahida Qaumi Movement Senator Khushbakht Shujaat are also seen at the National Assembly premises.