ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Thursday witnessed an unusual scene when the government itself provoked the opposition into creating a rumpus by directly targeting the opposition leadership, including Shahbaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari.
At the outset of the sitting, which started nearly two hours late on a private members’ day, presiding officer Munaza Hassan of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf gave the floor to firebrand Communications Minister Murad Saeed, providing him with the opportunity to respond to the opposition’s noisy protest during the finance minister’s budget speech and in the presence of Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday. On Thursday, as the chair gave the floor to the minister, all the opposition members stood up and started protesting the move.
Dr Nafeesa Shah of the Pakistan Peoples Party and a number of women legislators from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz as well as the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) protested against the chair, drawing attention towards the lengthy 52-point agenda item that carried 17 private members’ bills. The presiding officer, however, ignored the opposition’s protest, causing a number of members to gather in front of her dais. The opposition members tore up the copies of the agenda and started raising slogans.
Treasury members, including some ministers, also started raising slogans of “Go Nawaz, go”, and “Go Zardari, go”.
Treasury members chant slogans against Nawaz, Zardari
In his speech, Mr Saeed lashed out at opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif for calling PM Imran Khan a “selected prime minister.” In his apparent reference to the PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, he said that the “selected prime minister” was the person who acquired the post after the creation of the (establishment-backed) Islami Jamhoori Ittehad in the 1990s.
Referring to the opposition leader’s criticism of the government over the handling of the recent Sahiwal incident, the communications minister alleged that the report of the joint investigation team (JIT) concerning the 2014 Model Town incident had held the then chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and former provincial home minister Rana Sanaullah responsible for the killings. Mr Saeed explained that he wanted to respond to the “language that was used by the opposition members [on Wednesday] in the presence of the prime minister.” Besides targeting the PML-N, he also severely criticised the PPP leadership, accusing it of ruining Sindh through alleged corrupt practices.
The minister particularly lashed out at Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah for his alleged statement that “I am watching Pakistan breaking up.” Referring to the Sindh chief minister as a “shameless person”, Mr Saeed said that he was crying foul because his “corruption had been caught out.” He claimed that the Sindh police chief had recently told the Supreme Court that most of Sindh’s police officials were involved in criminal activities, adding: “Nothing will happen to Pakistan. Your politics have ended and you will all end up in jails,” whilst looking towards the opposition benches.
When the opposition’s protest intensified, Ms Hassan asked Mr Saeed to wind up his speech and later ordered the switching off of his microphone, whilst giving the floor to the MMA’s Aliya Kamran, who alleged that the government had intentionally spoiled the atmosphere by giving floor to an “ill-mannered” minister. She said that the government did not want to conduct legislative work and that was why it had itself bulldozed the proceedings.
Members of the opposition then started walking out of the house when speaker Asad Qaiser returned to the house and started running the proceedings in accordance with the agenda. The PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal kept asking for the floor to respond to the minister’s remarks, but the speaker ignored him and allowed members to introduce their bills.
The government has taken the opposition’s protest on the mini-budget day very seriously, something evident from a late night tweet by the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Political Affairs Naeemul Haque, in which he warned Shahbaz Sharif against targeting the prime minister with personal attacks, asking “if the PML-N leader wanted to spend more time in jail, sulking.”
In his tweets, Mr Haque alleged that by disrupting the mini-budget speech, the opposition had violated an agreement reached before start of the session.
“Pathetic behaviour by Shahbaz Sharif, the illegitimate child of Zia’s martial law and his corrupt chamchas [sycophants] in the NA. The violation by opposition of the agreement reached before presentation of the Finance Bill by Asad [Umar] is condemnable. Time to revoke Shahbaz’s production order”, he tweeted.“Shahbaz better decide if he wants to play a positive role in [the] NA and instruct his chamchas to behave,” he warned.
Mr Sharif has been under custody of the National Accountability Bureau in connection with a suspected housing scheme scam since October last year and is now attending the assembly sessions after the issuance of his production orders by the speaker.
The speaker adjourned the sitting abruptly after allowing the introduction of three bills.
The introduced bills are the Emigration (Amendment) Bill 2019 seeking the enhancement of the sentence for human traffickers, the Nadra (Amendment) Bill 2019 aimed at simplifying the procedure for obtaining computerised national identity cards, and the Constitution Amendment Bill 2019 seeking a complete ban on the sale and use of alcohol in the country.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2019