ISLAMABAD: On the opening day of its new winter session on Thursday, the National Assembly witnessed pandemonium when members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) came to blows with one another over the Panamagate issue.

The scuffle broke out when Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who had gone to the opposition’s front benches to talk to PTI’s parliamentary leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi during the noisy opposition’s protest, was confronted by some young members of the PTI after a heated argument, which could not be heard in the galleries.

Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who had already been struggling to bring the situation under control due to massive sloganeering from both sides, suspended the proceedings for 15 minutes after helplessly watching the members slapping, kicking and pushing each other.

Unable to control pandemonium, speaker suspends proceedings for 15 minutes

Some of the PTI backbenchers were seen rushing to the front rows by jumping over the desks to take part in the brawl.

A number of PML-N members also rushed to rescue the petroleum minister who had been surrounded by the PTI lawmakers by then.

PTI’s Murad Saeed, Shaharyar Afridi and Amjad Ali Khan Niazi and MNA Jamshed Dasti were prominent among the opposition members engaged in the scuffle.

The rowdy PTI lawmakers received a matching response from the treasury members, including Mian Abdul Mannan, Moeen Wattoo and Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry.

Leader of the Opposition Syed Khurshid Shah, who spoke first on a point of order soon after the question hour, asking the speaker to allow them to move a privilege motion against the prime minister for allegedly telling a lie on the floor of the house about the foreign assets owned by his family, was not present when the rumpus began.

Later, Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Iqbal Mohammad Ali Khan, while condemning the incident, said it appeared that Mr Shah had intentionally left the house as he knew about the “actual plan”. He said that being the opposition leader it was Mr Shah’s responsibility to be present in the house to defuse the situation.

The MQM legislator said that he was feeling ashamed after hearing abusive language of the members during the scuffle, adding that even the international media would highlight today’s incident.

The MQM members also staged a walkout to register their protest over the rowdyism.

The situation started getting tense when Shah Mehmood Qureshi, speaking on a point of order, suddenly began raising slogans against the prime minister and prompted his colleagues to take up the chant. The PTI members gathered around Mr Qureshi and started raising slogans “thief, thief” and “liar, liar”, prompting the treasury members to also give a response through sloganeering against PTI chief Imran Khan.

Despite repeated requests by the speaker, the PTI members refused to take their seats and demanded that the members of other opposition parties be also given the opportunity to speak on the privilege motion before Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, who had been given the floor by the speaker to respond to the two opposition speeches.

The speaker, who had already announced that he was ready to review his previous ruling on a similar motion during the last session, turned down the PTI’s request, saying he could not deny the government the right to respond. The speaker accused Mr Qureshi of violating the decisions taken at the Business Advisory Committee of the parliamentary leaders and intentionally spoiling the atmosphere.

The PTI and Pakistan Peoples Party members did not return to the house when the proceedings resumed after a break.

The speaker then gave the floor, first to Khawaja Asif and then to Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique.

The two ministers, taking complete advantage of the opposition’s absence and the speaker’s leniency, vented their anger and lashed out at Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi. They also passed some personal remarks against the PTI leaders.

The defence minister said Mr Qureshi talked about the money trail of Nawaz Sharif but did not tell the nation about his own income which he earned as caretaker of a shrine in Multan. He also criticised Mr Qureshi for changing his loyalties and recalled that the latter had served as provincial finance minister for five years when Nawaz Sharif was chief minister of Punjab. Before joining the PTI about four years ago, Mr Qureshi had served as foreign minister in the PPP’s previous government, Mr Asif said.

“First tell us about your political trail before asking the prime minister to present his money trail,” he said and alleged that Mr Qureshi’s ancestors had received lands as perks from the British rulers.

The minister claimed that some of the PTI lawmakers, who indulged in sloganeering, had already established contacts with the PML-N leadership and were now negotiating for the tickets for the 2018 general elections.

He said the privilege of the house had been breached, not by the prime minister, but by those PTI members who were standing on the desks during the protest.

The minister said the prime minister had presented himself and his family members for accountability not because of anyone’s fear but for the sake of democracy and the democratic system.

He also criticised the Jamaat-i-Islami for supporting the PTI, saying the party had deviated from the teachings of its own founding members. “The JI has always been on the wrong side of the movements. The party had earlier opposed the creation of Pakistan,” he alleged.

In his speech, Saad Rafique declared the PTI chairman “unpredictable, rude and loud-mouthed” and said the cricketer-turned-politician did not know the ethics of politics. He accused the PTI leadership of introducing a new culture in politics through use of abusive language against the opponents.

“Those who want to see Imran Khan’s new Pakistan should see today’s proceedings of the house. It will be remembered as a tragic and black day in the country’s parliamentary history,” Mr Rafique said.

He asked the speaker to take action against those who had violated the sanctity of parliament through “hooliganism”.

The speaker announced that he had already sought the video footage of the proceedings and would take action against those responsible in consultation with parliamentary leaders and the government.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2017