ISLAMABAD: Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani has restrained Federal Defence Minister Khawaja Asif from attending current session of the House for obstructing its business in a blatant violation of a chain of rulings given by him.

During Thursday’s sitting, the upper house was to hold a discussion on the minister’s statement on the army chief’s visit to Afghanistan given in the House on Dec 31, when the chair noticed absence of Mr Asif who was supposed to wind up the discussion.

By that time Leader of Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan raised a question whether the minister had directly received a briefing from Gen Raheel Sharif or otherwise, and said the House would like to seek an explanation from Mr Asif.

Minister of State for Water and Power, Abid Sher Ali, told the chair that Mr Asif had another engagement and had asked him to take down notes. He proposed that the debate be commenced and said the defence minister would subsequently wind up the discussion.

Mr Rabbani did not accept the proposal and said Mr Asif knew that the discussion was on the agenda. He asked PML-N’s Mushahidullah Khan what should be done and he responded that the discussion should begin.

But the chairman said that the House was not going to become ‘hostage to an individual’.

The proceedings were suspended for 10 minutes to allow his cabinet colleagues to contact the defence minister through mobile phone. But this turned out to be a futile exercise and the chair was told that he could not be reached.

Abid Sher Ali reiterated his proposal with the amendment that Mr Asif would furnish a written reply. The chairman rejected the idea of winding the debate because it involved a technical question (if the defence minister had directly been briefed by the army chief or by his staff) and it would not be possible for Mr Ali to answer it.

Chaudhry Tanvir of the PML-N suggested that the matter be put off till Friday (today) amid slogans of ‘No’ from opposition benches.

Finally Mr Rabbani, instead of binding the defence minister to appearing before the House the next day as is the usual practice, barred him from attending the remaining portion of the current session.

The symbolic bar will last for only a couple of hours because the House is to be prorogued on Friday.

Mr Rabbani deplored that despite notices given by him in a chain of rulings, ministers continue to remain absent from Senate sessions.

In the present case, he said, the Senate had taken up the matter on Dec 29 when the issue of the army chief’s Kabul visit was raised in the House and an ‘ignorant minister’ had sought two days to tell about the substance of the meeting(s) Gen Raheel had held with Afghan authorities.

Finally Khawaja Asif gave a statement on Dec 31. The House insisted that there should be a debate on the statement and he agreed. The minister said he would attend the next session when the debate could be held.

Mr Rabbani said the Senate secretariat had informed the minister’s office a day earlier that the matter had been fixed for Jan 21. The first question during the question hour pertained to Khawaja Asif’s ministry and he should have been present in the House.

On coming to know that a vote was taking place in the National Assembly where Mr Asif was present, the chairman said, he suspended Senate proceedings for around half an hour to facilitate the minister to reach the upper house.

Rejecting the idea of a written reply by the defence minister, he said a new precedence had been sought to be set in the parliamentary practice, which he could not allow, because the practice would be tantamount to degrading the House and its members.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2016

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