ISLAMABAD: As a row between the government and the opposition sparked by criticism of top opposition leaders by a federal minister during National Assembly proceedings and a tweet by an aide to prime minister against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Shahbaz Sharif intensified, the two sides traded barbs outside the parliament as well on Friday.

While the PML-N threatened it would not allow Prime Minister Imran Khan attend the NA session, if Shahbaz Sharif was prevented from doing the same, the government insisted that the opposition will have to respect the prime minister.

Talking to reporters after the brief but tense proceedings of the NA, former defence minister and PML-N leader Khawaja Mohammad Asif warned the government against taking any drastic steps and threatened that “if the leader of the opposition is not allowed to come to the National Assembly, neither will be the leader of the house.” Mr Asif was referring to tweets by the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Political Affairs, Naeemul Haq who had warned the leader of the opposition, Shahbaz Sharif, against targeting PM Khan with ‘personal’ attacks while threatening that the PML-N leader would “spend more time in jail” were his production orders to be revoked. Mr Haq’s threat came as the NA witnessed pandemonium on Wednesday after the prime minister reached the house, only to witness an exchange of barbs.

Khawaja Asif says if opposition leader is not allowed to come to NA, neither will be leader of house; Fawad wants opposition to respect prime minister

The prime minister, who attended the Jan 23 session after a hiatus of over three months entered the house at the time when Mr Sharif was criticising the federal and Punjab governments over the handling of the Sahiwal tragedy. The PTI was apparently offended by the use of the words “selected prime minister” for PM Khan in his presence and the remarks against Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar that “he cannot even respond to nature’s call without the prime minister’s permission”.

Khawaja Asif said that the PML-N wanted the parliament to continue its job.” Governments come and go, but the parliament should continue functioning [...] However, if this is the environment they want to create in parliament, we are also ready for it. But, it is the government that will be held solely responsible for this,” he said. “If the language they want to use is reflected in these tweets [...] they do not even respect the speaker’s office, nor the parliament. These people used to use foul language against the parliament in the past and curse it [...] but if they plan to carry on the same behaviour now that they are in the government, it [parliament] won’t go on [much further]. “Imran Khan had himself state in the past that the then Punjab chief minister Mr Sharif should resign and the then home minister Rana Sanaullah should be arrested [over the police’s brutality in the Model Town incident].”

Mr Sharif had said on the floor of the house, “Now, according to his own words, first the prime minister should submit his resignation and then [Punjab Chief Minister] Usman Buzdar should resign,” Mr Sharif demanded amidst desk-thumping by the opposition members.

Information minister responds

In an instant response to the remarks, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the opposition’s behaviour in the NA was incomprehensible. “On the one hand, they say every day that the prime minister does not come to the assembly; but once he does, it seems like the assembly turns into a bazaar.” He regretted that insulting remarks were passed against the prime minister by the opposition that had the temerity to claim that the government had no respect for parliament. “The opposition needs to respect the prime minister first,” he demanded. Reminding the opposition of the government’s concession in granting Mr Sharif the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairmanship, Mr Chaudhry said that “There was internal dissent in the party about the PAC chairmanship. I did not want Shahbaz to become the chairman, but Pervez Khattak and Shah Mehmood Qureshi wanted to be magnanimous and give it [the chair] to him, and so we did. […] He is being investigated currently and there are Rangers, police and ambulances outside for him. This is the sort of protocol even ministers don’t dream of”.

Mr Chaudhry asked the opposition to play its role in smooth parliamentary proceedings, and express regret at the idea that Mr Sharif was, as he termed it, vitiating the political environment. He added further that Mr Sharif had introduced the culture of extra-judicial killings during his tenures as Punjab chief minister, and was now criticising the PTI government on the Sahiwal incident, which — unlike the Model Town tragedy — had not been a pre-planned killing.

Referring to Sindh, Mr Chaudhry said PM Khan would soon pay a visit to take stock of the current situation and evolve a new policy to provide all possible relief to citizens. Rejecting the recent statements of PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah that the system and the state were in danger, he said that the political careers of some PPP leaders were at stake, who had been caught red-handed at large-scale money-laundering and corruption.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2019

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