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ISLAMABAD: A helpless National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Thursday abruptly adjourned the proceedings of the house after opposition members lodged a strong protest over the arrest of Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from Islamabad.

The protesting opposition members gathered in front of the speaker’s dais and disrupted the proceedings as soon as Mr Qaiser gave floor to federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Dr Fehmida Mirza who wanted to respond to the speeches of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders Syed Khursheed Shah and Raja Pervez Ashraf in which they had condemned NAB for arresting Mr Durrani.

“Does a former speaker not have any respect? I am a former speaker,” Dr Mirza kept on shouting when the opposition members refused to listen to her.

The PPP members, who were already protesting against the alleged maltreatment of the Sindh Assembly speaker and his family by NAB officials, became more agitated to see Dr Mirza, a PPP dissenter and now a key member of the Grand Democratic Alliance, taking the floor and thus created a ruckus, forcing the speaker to adjourn the sitting till Friday morning (today).

Khursheed Shah terms Agha Siraj Durrani’s arrest ‘condemnable, shameful and insult of parliament’

After failing to get an opportunity to speak on the floor of the NA, Dr Mirza vented her anger outside the Parliament House where during a media talk with Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari, she accused the PPP-led Sindh government of not caring for the people of the province where children were dying due to malnutrition. She alleged that the Sindh province was facing worst human rights situation. She also accused the PPP of using the Sindh card for their political interests.

Dr Mirza “condemned” the opposition members for making the parliament “hostage” and not allowing her to deliver the speech as a former speaker. She said today the opposition members were crying over NAB action against Mr Durrani whereas they remained silent when her own house in Badin was raided in a similar fashion. She was particularly furious over Khursheed Shah’s act of excluding her name from the list of former speakers during his speech.

Dr Mirza said she had never used the assembly floor to talk about the situation she and her family were facing in Sindh and always used the parliament to raise the issues of her hometown Badin and the people of her province.

Earlier, speaking on a point of order in the NA, Khursheed Shah warned that his party would lodge a strong protest over the “humiliation” of the Sindh Assembly speaker. He said that Mr Durrani was “dragged and forcefully shoved into a vehicle”. He termed the NAB action “condemnable, shameful and insult of this parliament”.

Mr Shah pointed out that although there were many leaders facing references, including Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, it was only the Sindh Assembly speaker who was “arrested in a humiliating way”.

“If the custodian of the house himself is not safe, how he can protect the members?” questioned Mr Shah, who also wondered “what message the people of Sindh are being given”.

He warned that they would come out onto the streets to run a movement to strengthen institutions and for the respect of politicians.

The PPP leader asked Speaker Asad Qaiser also to protest the treatment of Mr Durrani by NAB officials, saying that “tomorrow it can happen with him as well”.

When Mr Qaiser interrupted and made it clear that he was not facing any case or reference, Mr Shah responded that the speaker should keep in mind that cases could be “fabricated” against him anytime.

He also lashed out at the speaker for not issuing the production order for PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique and alleged that he was not doing so “under pressure and on the dictation of someone”.

Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood responded to Mr Shah’s speech amid noisy protest by the opposition members. He questioned why the PPP and PML-N did not, during their 10 years in power, amend the NAB laws if they had objections to it.

The opposition members kept on raising slogans throughout the minister’s speech.

Mr Mehmood said NAB was an independent institution and it did not take directions from the prime minister or the government. He said NAB had also arrested former Punjab senior minister Abdul Aleem Khan and they were also “upset” over it, but did not use the parliament as a shield.

“No one should use democracy and parliament as a shield to protect corruption,” he stated.

Former prime minister and PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf said that the time had come that they should decide if the parliament was sovereign or there were some other institutions which were above it. He said NAB’s independence did not mean that it had a licence to disgrace people.

Earlier, the house had, through a motion, allowed the speaker to constitute a number of committees, including the parliamentary committee on national security and Kashmir.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2019