The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government on Monday once again came under fire in the Senate from opposition lawmakers over its handling of protests by religious parties against the acquittal of Aasia Bibi, with PML-N's Mushahidullah Khan claiming that the ruling party was merely reaping what it had sowed while it was in opposition.
He alleged that the last time such protests had taken place, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari had participated in the sit-ins. Governments leaders had also exploited the issue to gain votes, he alleged.
It is "divine justice" that the "fire" the ruling party had started has now become impossible for it to extinguish, Mushahidullah said, adding that agreements are now being signed with the people who issued statements against state institutions.
"You hindered a country that was speeding towards progress... but today you are unable to even answer whether Aasia [Bibi] is present in the country or not," the PML-N leader said while addressing the treasury benches.
"The khatm-e-nabuwwat [protesters] that are your foes today were your friends yesterday... is this not 'divine justice'?"
After an exchange of hot words with several government members over his criticism of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who was not present in the house, Mushahidullah resumed his broadside against Prime Minister Imran Khan's party.
"They say the three-day [TLP] sit-in resulted in a loss of Rs50 billion per day... why don't they multiply Rs50bn by 126 days?" he said, in a taunting reference to the 126-day sit-in staged by the PTI in 2014.
"Why didn't you think then that this was causing loss of the country and people?"
PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar in his remarks regretted the situation that had arisen from the countrywide protests staged by religiopolitical groups.
"A registered political party crossed the red line," he said, referring to the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).
"Are we going to continue tolerating a political party which talks about creating anarchy in the country?" he asked, observing that the Constitution calls for the suspension of a party's membership if it talks against the country's sovereignty.
He wondered why the government had opted to "escape" from the national consensus that emerged over the protests, and proceeded to enter into a deal with the agitators.
"The interior minister laid all the blame for this on the opposition, which was standing next to you," he said, addressing the treasury benches.
"The government's inefficiency [in dealing with the situation] spread despair among the people," he said.
Economic assistance from Saudi, China
Mushahidullah also took a jibe at the government for what he called "begging" from other countries, saying it was unprecedented for the government to term the economic assistance it has received an "achievement".
Referring to Prime Minister Imran Khan, the senator said it was the first time that a leader had gone to China and said "'everyone in my country is corrupt'", and later sought financial aid.
State Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar while briefing the house said $3 billion will be deposited in the State Bank as part of the economic package agreed to by Saudi Arabia.
He said matters of financial assistance are currently being discussed with China, and the Senate "will be informed when they are finalised".
"The balance-of-payments crisis has been stopped now due to government efforts," the minister claimed, adding that exports and foreign exchange reserves are rising as the imports fall.
Responding to Mushahidullah's query about the action taken against Pakistanis who were named in the Panama Papers leaks, Azhar said the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has started taking steps in this regard.
"We have obtained data of 96,000 foreign accounts [held by Pakistanis] from 27 countries," he said, adding that the FBR has recovered Rs7 billion through the investigation into the Panama Papers leaks.
Bill for parliament ratification of govt's foreign agreements
Earlier on Monday, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani presented a bill in the Senate that could make it binding upon the government to place agreements and contracts with other countries, donors and international monetary organisations before the parliament for ratification.
The bill titled “Ratification of Foreign Agreements by Parliament Bill, 2018” had been moved by Rabbani, the former Senate chairman, in August.
Through the bill, the PPP leader has called upon the government to place a foreign agreement, contract or protocol to be signed with any country before both the houses of the parliament to seek approval of its draft within 15 days of its finalisation.
Speaking in the upper house today, Rabbani said it is a practice in some countries that all agreements are ratified by the parliament.
He explained that the bill would force the government to present in the legislature agreements on which it has negotiated with foreign parties, but before the agreement has been signed.
The parliament will then send its recommendations on the agreement to the relevant ministry, which will inform the parliament about the approval of the suggestions within a specified time.
Commenting on the proposal, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said although he principally had no objections against the bill, there is no uniform practice around the world regarding ratification of agreements and treaties by the parliament.
"Many countries do not get agreements ratified by the lawmakers," he informed the Senate. A situation of uncertainty can be created by frequent amendments to international treaties, on which talks can last for several years, he added.
"A method of review should be devised that doesn't become a hindrance in the [signing of agreements]," he stressed.
Opposition Leader in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq supported the bill, saying matters like foreign agreements should not stay confined to the executive and that the parliament should have a say in them.
After hearing all opinions on the proposal, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani sent the bill to the relevant committee.
Bill for amendment in ECL rules
Rabbani presented another bill seeking amendment in the rules governing the Exit Control List (ECL).
The bill requires the government to explain its decision of adding a person's name to the ECL and inform the said person within 24 hours of them being placed on the list.
Under the bill, a person would be able to file a review plea with the government against the placement of their name on the ECL. The government would have to decide the same within 15 days; if it fails to do so, the decision to place the person's name on the list will become nullified.
Opposing the proposal, Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi said the current procedure to add names to the ECL was appropriate.
He said a decision could be taken in haste if the government had to review petitions regarding placement of names on the list within 15 days.
The bill was handed over to the concerned standing committee for review.