ISLAMABAD: Despite the rejection of all their cut motions against budget grants for various ministries, the opposition in the National Assembly tore into the government on Tuesday over its foreign policy failures and its complete inability to tackle loadshedding as it had promised before the 2013 general elections.
The country’s relations with its neighbours are currently at a low point, said Syed Naveed Qamar of the Pakistan Peoples Party, adding, “today, they are coming together and forming alliances against us”.
“We don’t even have friends in Washington anymore; they are willing to forgo their commitments to us at the drop of a hat.”
Opposition tears into govt over foreign policy failures, loadshedding; another Rs149bn approved for four ministries
It wasn’t just foreign policy that was suffering because of a lack of leadership, domestic terrorism is also coming home to roost, he said, referring to the tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan over terrorists’ use of each country’s soil against the other.
“It is about time we reach out to the government in Kabul, whatever government it may be. We can’t pick and choose; Pakistan must have good relations with whichever government the people of Afghanistan elect.”
He also asked why and “under whose influence” Pakistan was still unable to open up to Iran.
“Why is Iran only seen in the context of one Indian spy,” he questioned and warned against taking a myopic view of our neighbour to the west.
“India has become Washington’s pocket watch and walking stick,” said Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, urging Sartaj Aziz to mend ties with Russia, China and Iran because in his opinion, Pakistan’s future lay in a regional alliance.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Shireen Mazari reminded the house that Pakistan does not have a full-time foreign minister. Even though Speaker Ayaz Sadiq tried to explain that he enjoyed the status of a cabinet minister, Ms Mazari didn’t back down.
She took issue with the ceding of space that had allowed other institutions to encroach upon the functions of the foreign ministry, saying that the army chief was meeting not only his counterparts, but also foreign leaders who should, by rights, be talking to the civilian leadership.
Ms Mazari lambasted the government for its subjective ‘red lines’ on drone strikes in settled areas. “There have been dozens of drone attacks in Fata, did they not cross any lines? Isn’t Fata part of Pakistan?”
Ms Mazari was highly critical of Pakistan’s lobbying to block India’s application to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), saying that New Delhi had applied years ago and Islamabad had only just woken up. “If China blocks India’s membership due to its principled stance [that no country that is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty can join], it is no thanks to you.”
Defending his position, Sartaj Aziz pointed out that advisers to the PM enjoyed constitutional cover and that his status had never been an impediment in discharging his duties. “Under the previous regime, the portfolios of finance, foreign affairs and interior were run by advisers.”
He also contrasted the state of Pakistan to other, war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Libya, saying the country was much better off than them, a comparison that does not inspire much confidence.
Defending the Pakistani government’s decision to hire lobbyists in the US, Mr Aziz said “There is a former ambassador who is now openly lobbying against Pakistan”.
Although he didn’t name anyone, a statement released by Husain Haqqani on Tuesday said: “[I] knew Aziz was talking about [me] because another minister had attacked [me] by name with similar claims.”
The statement called on officials to “take responsibility for failed policies and their poor presentation abroad instead of looking for scapegoats”.
The discussion on cut motions for the Ministry of Water and Power’s budget became quite heated, with several opposition members calling on the ruling party to resign from both Punjab and the Centre over its failure to make good on its election promise to eliminate loadshedding.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Syed Waseem lamented that the people of Hyderabad did not have water to bathe the dead and pleaded with the government to take pity on them.
However, Abid Sher Ali vitiated the atmosphere when he reprised some of Mr Asif’s unfortunate remarks from earlier in the session.
He opened his speech by a self-styled explanation of his federal minister’s whereabouts.
“Khawaja sahib has gone to fetch transformer trolleys, so that a tractor is not required to pull them,” he said, gesticulating wildly.
His meaning was unmistakable, and the opposition would have none of it. Rising in his seat, Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah gave the government an ultimatum.
“Are you saying I don’t know what he meant? Don’t you know what he meant? Let the business of the house proceed smoothly as it has, otherwise, I assure you the finance minister won’t be able to present the bill tomorrow,” he thundered.
Both the speaker and Safron minister Abdul Qadir Baloch, however, acknowledged that Mr Sher Ali may have been out of line and asked him to apologise. But the unrepentant junior minster kept avoiding an apology, until he was forced by the speaker to say: “Shah sahib, I apologise for offending you and your friends.”
The house also witnessed an opposition walkout when Baleeghur Rehman rose to wind up on behalf of the interior ministry in place of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Although the MQM came back to heckle Mr Rehman just as he began his speech, the rest of the opposition only returned after Chaudhry Nisar came to the house.
The house also approved another 19 demands for grants worth over Rs149 billion for four departments, including Rs98.33bn for Interior, Rs29.37bn for Water and Power, Rs16.08bn for Foreign Affairs and Rs5.23bn for Food Security and Research. The only remaining grant is a Rs1.47bn allocation for the Petroleum and Natural Resources Division, which is expected to be approved today (Wednesday) before the assembly takes up the finance bill and supplementary grants.
Published in Dawn, June 22th, 2016