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Govt, opposition come to blows in NA as PPP lawmaker terms deal with protesters a 'surrender'

Updated November 05, 2018

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Lawmakers prevent PPP's Syed Rafiullah from charging at a PTI member.

Members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the PPP on Monday exchanged hot words and nearly got into a physical altercation after the opposition criticised the agreement reached between the government and religiopolitical groups, who protested the acquittal of Asia Bibi for three days last week.

The fracas began after PPP MNA Shazia Marri termed the deal finalised between the government and protesters as a "surrender document", and in a taunting reference to Prime Minister Imran Khan's surname (Niazi), compared the agreement to the surrender document signed by Gen A.A.K. Niazi that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Editorial: Another surrender

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan objected to Marri's remarks and asked her to desist from ridiculing an entire clan or tribe for an individual's act. He said it was true that Gen Niazi had surrendered before Indian troops in 1971 but there are other Niazis who are "rendering great services and sacrifices for the nation".

Speaker Asad Qaiser interjected with a warning that no member would ridicule any tribe or clan in their speeches in the future.

However, when Marri insisted she was actually mentioning the name of Gen Niazi and that she would continue to do so, a number of treasury backbenchers stood up and lodged a noisy protest to prevent the PPP lawmaker from continuing her speech.

Meanwhile, a PPP MNA from Karachi, Syed Rafiullah, and PTI's MNA from Layyah Abdul Majeed Khan exchanged some hot words.

Getting angry over some remarks uttered by Khan, which could not be heard in the galleries due to noise, Rafiullah was seen charging towards the PTI MNA, but he was physically stopped by a number of lawmakers.

The speaker called the sergeants-at-arms to expel both members from the house. However, after failing to control the situation, he adjourned the sitting till Tuesday morning.

'Govt will always defend blasphemy laws'

Earlier, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri defended the government's act of entering into a deal with Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) leaders for ending their protest sit-ins over the Supreme Court verdict in Asia Bibi case.

Speaking during the session, the minister, who was a signatory to the agreement, said the government had not used force to disperse the protesters as per the desire of the opposition parties.

He said Prime Minister Khan was constantly in touch with them from China and had also instructed them to resolve the matter peacefully.

He recalled that the previous government of the PML-N had also signed a deal with the same protesters (during the Faizabad sit-in), but it was signed after three weeks and after its law minister resigned. In contrast, he said, the PTI government had succeeded in reaching an agreement in three days and without any resignation.

Qadri stressed that the PTI-led government "will always defend Section 295-C of blasphemy laws".

He said the speech of Prime Minister Khan about the establishment of writ of the state in the country was a policy and it would be implemented during its five-year tenure.

"There is a need to formulate a long-term strategy to avoid such a situation [in the future]," the minister said.

'Govt took a U-turn'

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had earlier demanded that some government minister should brief the House about the agreement signed by the government with the protesters. He alleged that the government had a non-serious attitude towards important national issues.

Abbasi claimed the government had itself pointed out a lack of quorum on Friday and "ran away from the parliament".

Rana Sanaullah, another PML-N leader, said the government had handled the protest in a non-serious manner.

Without naming TLP leaders, he said these religiopolitical leaders had all of a sudden entered the political arena even though "none of them had contested even the municipality election before". He said these people were brought into politics during the by-election in NA-120, when Kulsoom Nawaz was contesting the polls, and they were later allowed to field candidates from all constituencies in the July 25 elections.

When some PTI members interrupted and asked him to identify the forces who allegedly backed the religiopolitical groups, Sanaullah said they were the same elements "who brought people from south Punjab to Banigala and into the PTI fold".

He said the agreement signed with religious groups during the PML-N government's tenure had been "forced" on them and they had not done so willingly.

Sannaullah said the opposition had suggested not to use force only at three places — Faizabad in Islamabad, The Mall in Lahore, and in Karachi — as protesters had gathered at these places in large numbers.

He said the prime minister in his speech had categorically stated that the writ of the state would be established at all costs, but in the next three days the nation saw no state or government.

"After the prime minister's speech, the government took a U-turn and entered into a deal with the protesters," the PML-N leader said.

Sanaullah also asked the government to disclose the whereabouts of Asia Bibi. "Has Asia Bibi been released as per the SC order or is she still in jail as per the agreement [with protesters]?" he asked.

He said the government had started registering cases against the protesters and there was a fear that innocent people could also be picked up in the drive.

'Opposition did not take political advantage of protests'

Earlier in the evening, Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif told PML-N lawmakers that the opposition had "not tried to take political advantage" during the crisis-like situation that had resulted from religious groups' countrywide protests against the acquittal of Asia Bibi last week.

Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of PML-N's parliamentary party. — PML-N Twitter
Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of PML-N's parliamentary party. — PML-N Twitter

Sharif, who is currently in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), was chairing a meeting of PML-N's parliamentary party at the Parliament House.

The PML-N president deferred his address to the National Assembly today and is now expected to address the House tomorrow.

According to a series of tweets by the PML-N, Sharif during the meeting briefed party members on the steps that helped in improving the law and order situation in the country during the past few days.

Also read: Fawad Chaudhry thanks PPP, PML-N for 'maturity' in supporting govt over handling of protests

"[Sharif] briefed party members on the positive role played by the opposition during recent sit-ins," the party said in a tweet.

He claimed that although the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had exploited occasions like these for "political gains", the current opposition prioritised national interest instead of doing politics on the issue.

The PML-N president was also quoted as saying that the PTI government had gained nothing from Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to China this week.

In a statement issued, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said the meeting had taken stock of the overall political, economic and internal security situation of the country and deliberated upon a strategy for the future.

The PML-N members also criticised as an "unparliamentary act" the adjournment of the session on Friday after a lawmaker pointed out lack of quorum five minutes after it started.

"The way the government ended the session in such a sensitive situation by pointing out the [lack of] quorum shows the government lacks the ability and courage to deal with challenges," the statement read.

The adjournment of Friday's NA session considerably irked the opposition, which had already expressed its disappointment a day earlier over Prime Minister Khan's absence from the Lower House at a time when the country was facing nationwide protests by religious groups.

Soon after a recitation from the Holy Quran, Agha Hassan of the Balochistan National Party (Mengal) had pointed out lack of quorum. Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri subsequently ordered a head count and then adjourned the session till Monday after finding that the quorum was not complete.

The opposition later used the adjournment of the assembly as a pretext to refuse a meeting with a government delegation that had requested bipartisan support for a parliamentary resolution against the protesters.

'No economic vision'

The meeting expressed concerns over the state of the economy, saying the government has "no economic vision or strategy" to deal with the crisis-like situation.

"The increasing economic instability and uncertainty could have... serious implications for the national security," the party said.

"Economic, agricultural, commercial and industrial activities are witnessing gradual decline which could become the harbinger of an economic disaster."

It was decided during the meeting that the PML-N will issue a fact sheet on the PTI government's performance of first 100 days and "inform the people about the details of the current government's failures".

The meeting also condemned complaints and reports of media censorship in the country, saying: "The PML-N considers freedom of press an essential pre-requisite to strengthen democracy."

Shahbaz's arrival

Ahead of Monday's session that began at 5pm, a NAB team brought Shahbaz to Parliament House, where he held a meeting with former NA speaker Ayaz Sadiq, PML-N's Sindh representative Shah Muhammad Shah and MNA Kheal Das regarding matters related to the party's reorganisation across the country.

According to PML-N party sources, Sharif also met his lawyer Amjad Pervaiz with his team during which the ongoing NAB cases against him were discussed. The PML-N president, whose physical remand is to end day after tomorrow, consulted his lawyer about their future strategy.