Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani on Monday threatened Defence Minister Dastagir with 'contempt of parliament' proceedings after the minister outright refused to provide details of the ‘unilateral decision’ to send Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia for deployment.
The chairman said he 'rejected' Dastagir's briefing to the upper house after the minister said he could not divulge "operational details" of the deployment.
"Why don't we proceed against you and the prime minister over contempt of parliament?" Rabbani asked Dastagir after the minister revealed that it was Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi who green-lighted the deployment.
The Senate chairman censured Dastagir for not taking the house into confidence even though both the defence minister and premier had knowledge of the decision for several months.
"The parliament found out [about the deployment] through a press release," Rabbani said. "The executive has itself rubbed parliament's nose in the dirt."
But the defence minister argued that despite the decision, Pakistan remains "neutral" — in line with a unanimous resolution passed by a joint sitting of parliament in 2015 stating that Pakistan will not become party to any war in the Middle East or any Arab state.
Disclosing the size of the deployment for the first time since the decision was announced, Dastagir said a total of 1,000 Pakistani troops are being sent to the Kingdom on a training mission. He said 1,600 Pakistani soldiers are already stationed in Saudi Arabia.
The defence minister attempted to assure Senate that the troops will not be deployed outside the Kingdom's territory, but Chairman Rabbani expressed a lack of confidence in the assurance, saying this information was already known.
"The House is not satisfied with your response," he told Dastagir, while Senator Farhatullah Babar stressed that "all concerns remain despite the defence minister's statement".
"Has a decision been taken to deploy troops at the border of [the southern Saudi province of] Sharura," he asked.
The Senate chairman told the defence minister that he could not hide any information from parliament, and even offered him the option of briefing the Senate on the issue in detail in an in-camera session.
"[But] don't give us a lollipop... we are not children," Rabbani told him.
However, the defence minister turned down the offer, stressing that he could not divulge operational details of the mission.
"Don't ask where in Saudi Arabia the troops will be deployed," he further said.
'Deepening defence relationship'
In a statement issued after the Senate briefing, the defence minister gave a rundown of Pakistan-Saudi relations, seemingly in an attempt to justify the troops deployment.
Military cooperation between Pakistan and KSA dates back nearly five decades, the minister recalled, adding that Pakistani troops' training of Saudi forces is governed by the '1982 bilateral Pak-Saudi Protocol on the Deputation of Pakistan Armed Forces Personnel and Military Training'.
The statement revealed that nearly 10,000 Saudi armed forces personnel have been trained in various training academies and institutions in Pakistan.
"The assistance being rendered to Saudi Arabia is a continuation of the ongoing support and is within the confines of joint parliamentary resolution of April 2015 [that called for neutrality]."
The defence minister clarified that the Pakistani contingent comprising more than 1,000 troops of all ranks will be dispatched to the Kingdom on the training and advisory mission "shortly".
He recalled that a contingent of Saudi armed forces had participated in the Pakistan Day Parade on March 23 last year, "which manifests the deepening defence relationship between Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia".
On Thursday, the army had said it was sending troops to Saudi Arabia for deployment under a bilateral security pact. The announcement came after Saudi Ambassador Cdr Nawaf Saeed Al-Maliki reportedly discussed the “regional security situation” with Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. The latter had also recently met Crown Prince Salman and Saudi military commanders during a three-day visit to the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia has been demanding the deployment of Pakistani troops since the start of the Yemen conflict in 2015, but Pakistan has been struggling to concede due to the parliamentary resolution asserting the country’s neutrality in the conflict.
Last year, Pakistan had sent its famed army chief, retired Gen Raheel Sharif, to lead a Saudi-led coalition of troops contributed by several Muslim countries. Thereafter, it had been speculated that the deployment would take place even if it would not happen as quickly as the Saudis wanted.
Bill decriminalising suicide attempt passed
The Senate on Monday also unanimously passed a bill seeking to decriminalise attempted suicide and providing treatment and protection to those who try to end their lives.
Under Section 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), both suicide and attempted suicide are currently considered criminal offences, with the latter punishable either by a jail term of up to a year, or a fine, or both.
The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill 2017, moved by Senator Karim Khawaja and already cleared by the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, proposes that the survivors of suicide attempts should be provided treatment and not awarded punishment as they try to commit suicide because of chemical changes in their brain which is nothing but a disease.
Examine: Attempted suicide: illness or crime?
The state should treat those who seek to take their own lives like a mother, the bill argues.
"A person attempts suicide only in a state of extreme frustration," it says, demanding that the state safeguard the victims of mental illnesses and depression.
The Senate had in October last year deferred the same bill, with Chairman Raza Rabbani ruling that a decision was not possible without a definitive view of the Council of Islamic Ideology.
Chairman of the Senate standing committee Rehman Malik had then informed the house that according to the CII, there were no clear directions in the religion about the fate of survivors of suicide attempts.
The criminalisation of suicidal behaviour is one of the main reasons that people do not seek help for the psychological problem that may have precipitated the act.
With additional reporting by Naveed Siddiqui in Islamabad.