ISLAMABAD: The joint sitting of parliament convened to discuss Pakistan-India relations with respect to the Kashmir issue witnessed on Thursday a rumpus due to a verbal clash between members of the ruling PML-N and the main opposition PPP — the two arch-rivals of the past — over the Panama Papers scandal.
It became a free-for-all at one stage when the PPP lawmakers, mostly women, stood up and started raising anti-government slogans after the PML-N’s Mushahidullah Khan made some personal attacks on the PPP leadership in response to Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan’s demand that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif clear his name from the Panama Papers scam for the sake of national unity.
Firebrand Mushahidullah Khan accused Mr Ahsan of helping India crush the Khalistan movement by handing over the lists of Sikh activists to Indian intelligence agencies when he was interior minister in the Benazir government.
During Mr Ahsan’s speech, Mr Khan was seen discussing some matters with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid giving an impression that he had been directed by the party to respond with aggression.
Aitzaz believes Pakistan has been isolated as a result of foreign policy failure
Mr Khan also quoted an observation made by the Sindh High Court alleging that PPP MNA Faryal Talpur, sister of former president Asif Ali Zardari, had misused huge funds in the name of development of Larkana, the hometown of the Bhutto family.
The PML-N senator said the Panama Papers did not contain the name of Prime Minister Sharif, but of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Moreover, he said, people remembered the time when even the signboards of Kashmir had been removed from the capital when then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had arrived in Pakistan.
Mr Khan also took exception to the statement made by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari that a PPP man would be prime minister after the 2018 elections and Nawaz Sharif would be in jail.
He said Mr Sharif would again become the prime minister after the 2018 elections and one could guess as to who would be behind bars then.
Some treasury members raised slogans of “shame, shame” during Mr Khan’s speech.
This agitated the PPP lawmakers who stood up and started raising full-throated slogans ‘Modi ka jo yaar hai, ghaddar hai ghaddar hai’.
After exhausting all efforts to put the house in order, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq threatened to adjourn the sitting if the opposition members continued to create disturbance.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah then took the floor and lashed out at the government for spoiling the environment of the joint sitting which had basically been convened to demonstrate national unity on the Kashmir issue.
Despite having differences with the government over a number of issues, he said, the opposition had decided to attend the joint sitting because it did not want to send wrong signals to the outside world on the Kashmir issue. He regretted that they had come here to support the government so that it could highlight the Kashmir issue with confidence, but the treasury members had started using the occasion for political point-scoring.
Referring to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s decision of not attending the joint sitting, Mr Shah said the government had no realisation of the fact that one party had already boycotted the session and already announced that it would shut down the federal capital.
He said Mr Ahsan in his speech had not used any abusive language and made no personal attacks.
The treasury members sitting on the front benches, including Leader of the House in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, rushed to the opposition benches after Mr Shah announced that they had decided to walk out of the house to prevent the environment from getting further spoiled.
“If we will continue to sit here then definitely someone from us will respond and the situation will further deteriorate. So it’s better that we sit in the lobby and you continue with your political point-scoring,” Mr Shah said and started walking towards the opposition lobby with other opposition members.
Besides Raja Zarafrul Haq, a number of ministers, including Aftab Shaikh, Abid Sher Ali and Rana Tanveer, and Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi went to the opposition benches and requested them not to stage a walkout.
It was after Mr Haq’s assurance that he would apologise over Mr Khan’s remarks on the floor of the house, which he later did, the opposition decided not to walk out.
Later, Mr Khan resumed his speech and said that if his party’s leader of the house had apologised, he did not feel any hesitation in doing so. He then targeted Imran Khan for boycotting the session, saying that it seemed that PTI chairman had “some hidden agenda”.
On a point of personal explanation, Aitzaz Ahsan denied the allegations that he had ever provided any list of Sikh activists to India. He said that such a list had never been with the interior ministry and challenged the government to hold his trial if he had committed treason by providing the lists to the Indian agencies.
“You are in government. Why are you not taking action against me? If I was a traitor, then why Nawaz Sharif hired me as his lawyer?” he asked.
Referring to the Sharifs’ agreement with former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, the PPP senator said he had not run away from the country after signing the agreement for staying abroad for 10 years.
Earlier, taking part in the debate on the Kashmir issue, Mr Ahsan criticised the government for not taking action against “non-state actors” and giving them the liberty to hold rallies anywhere in the country.
He also criticised the government for its “failed foreign policy” which, he said, was evident from the fact that Pakistan had been left isolated even in the region after countries like Bhutan and Afghanistan refused to attend the Saarc summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad.
“Since the prime minister himself holds the portfolio of foreign minister, it will be considered his failure,” he added. He criticised the prime minister for not mentioning the name of Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav in his speech at the UN last month.
Mehmood Khan Achakzai said that if the people of Kashmir did not want accession to Pakistan or India, then they should be given the “third option” and an “independent Kashmir” could be created in the country’s neighbourhood.
The joint sitting of parliament, which was initially planned for two days, will continue on Friday. It is expected that the lawmakers would adopt a resolution condemning violation of human rights in India-held Kashmir and expressing solidarity with the people of Kashmir.
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2016
For more live updates, follow Dawn.com's official news Instagram account @dawn.today