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THIS TV grab shows a smiling Asif Ali Zardari shaking hands with Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif in the National Assembly on Monday.
THIS TV grab shows a smiling Asif Ali Zardari shaking hands with Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif in the National Assembly on Monday.

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government on Monday faced embarrassment on the floor of the National Assembly when two of its coalition partners sided with the opposition parties, supporting the latter’s demand for the issuance of a production order of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmaker from Lahore and former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique.

Legislators belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) asked Speaker Asad Qaiser to use his powers and issue the production order of Mr Rafique as they considered the opposition’s protest justified.

Mr Rafique was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Dec 12 in Lahore as part of an investigation into a housing scheme scam after his bail was cancelled by the high court.

The whole opposition staged a walkout after Opposition Leader and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif told the chair that it would be difficult for them to sit in the house if Mr Rafique was not allowed to attend the proceedings. He said they would return only after the issuance of the production order of the lawmaker. Mr Sharif was followed by all the opposition parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal.

Shahbaz shakes hands with Zardari before leading walkout, boycott by opposition parties of NA session

Mr Sharif reminded Speaker Qaiser that he had himself vowed on the floor of the house that he would not let parliament down in this regard. However, the speaker remarked he was still “in the process”.

Before leaving the hall, Mr Sharif went straight to former president Asif Ali Zardari and both of them were seen shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries before staging the walkout. Mr Zardari along with PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had entered the house when the opposition leader was delivering his speech on the issue of Kashmir and the 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar.

After staging the walkout, one of the opposition members returned to the house in an attempt to disrupt the proceedings by pointing out lack of quorum, but after a headcount the speaker declared that the house was in order and allowed the members to move the items on the agenda.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi asked the opposition members to return to the house and take part in the proceedings as running the house was a collective responsibility of both the treasury and the opposition members. He said the opposition had lodged their protest after which they should participate in the proceedings.

Earlier, while taking part in the debate on the Kashmir issue, MQM lawmaker Syed Aminul Haque said though they were part of the ruling coalition, his party had a separate identity as well. He said the MQM always stood by principles, rule of law, parliament and national institutions and believed in democratic norms.

Mr Haque asked the speaker to follow past traditions and issue the production order of the PML-N lawmaker, reminding him that previously the speakers had issued production orders of Sheikh Rashid Ahmed when the PPP was ruling in 1989 and then Asif Ali Zardari was also allowed to attend assembly sessions when the PML-N later came to power.

The MQM legislator said that those sitting on the treasury benches must kept in mind that they would not sit there permanently.

Agha Hassan Baloch of the BNP-M urged the speaker to issue the production order of Mr Rafique, saying that his party was in government but its decisions were based on principles.

Demanding a production order of Mr Rafique, ANP lawmaker Amir Haider Hoti said he would make the same demand in case any treasury member was arrested. He also called for reviewing the accountability laws.

Similarly, an independent MNA from tribal areas Ali Wazir said that a number of government members were also facing allegations and inquiries and if any of them was arrested, he would raise voice for them and make a demand for issuance of their production order.

APS attack

Mr Wazir said that the previous PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had ordered an inquiry into the APS attack incident, but no result had come out of it. Similarly, he said the chief justice had also formed a commission on the APS incident, but there was no news about it since then.

He said the parents of the APS attack victims were running from pillars to post, but they were not getting justice. He said: “The APS was situated in Peshawar cantonment area, and not in any tribal area, and therefore, the concerns of the parents of the martyred schoolchildren about the security of the institution should also be accounted for.”

The National Assembly also passed a unanimous resolution “condemning” the terror attack on the school in 2014 and calling for implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism. The resolution also expressed profound grief and sadness over the martyrdom of APS students and teachers on Dec 16, 2014.

The assembly also approved an amendment to the assembly rules to allow playing of national anthem before start of every sitting.

The speaker later adjourned the sitting till Thursday morning.

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2018

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