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ISLAMABAD: Members from opposition offering Maghrib prayer for the first time in National Assembly on Wednesday.—INP
ISLAMABAD: Members from opposition offering Maghrib prayer for the first time in National Assembly on Wednesday.—INP

ISLAMABAD: Amid the opposition’s protest and boycott, the National Assembly on Wednesday passed a much-awaited supplementary budget-2019 that imposed enhanced duties on mobile phones and luxurious cars but exempted filers of tax returns from withholding tax on bank transactions and allowed non-filers to purchase cars.

The supplementary budget, which is also called ‘mini-budget’, is aimed at carrying out tax reforms and providing relief to health, industrial, low-cost housing and agricultural sectors and small and medium enterprises.

The issue of Pakistan-India tension also came under discussion during which the treasury benches invited the opposition members to give their input on the country’s foreign policy.

The opposition split on two separate issues — no relief for Haj pilgrims in the ‘mini-budget’ and remarks of Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda — but it jointly staged a walkout and the budget was passed in the presence of only treasury benchers.

Foreign minister asks Bilawal, Shahbaz and other parliamentary leaders to give their input on country’s foreign policy

It is for the first time in the history of parliament that Maghrib prayer was offered inside the house by members of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The opposition members gathered in front the speaker’s dais, raised slogans, tore up copies of the supplementary budget and threw them at Speaker Asad Qaisar.

The proceedings of the National Assembly, which mostly remained disrupted for the past two days due to the opposition’s demand for adopting a resolution against Faisal Vawda for what it called passing “blasphemous remarks”, started after a delay of 37 minutes on Wednesday.

Speaking on the floor of the house, Finance Minister Asad Umar said the government had announced the supplementary budget to provide relief to the masses, and not to impose more taxes on them. He said the last PML-N government had also presented a mini-budget in the last fiscal year of its five-year term, but it was aimed at imposing more taxes.

The minister said the last two governments — of the Pakistan Peoples Party and PML-N — had gone to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with their begging bowls during the first six months of their tenures, but the present Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government would go to the IMF on its own terms and would not accept those conditions which would be harmful for the people.

Mr Umar said he had welcomed Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif’s proposal for a “Charter of Economy” under which both the treasury and opposition would forge a policy as to how to rid the country of the economic crisis. “I hailed the offer, but unfortunately the opposition only tries to make political point scoring and gives no fruitful suggestion,” he added.

The minister claimed that the economic measures taken by the PTI government were far better than those of the PPP and PML-N governments. “The people will soon bear fruit of our policies and will see peace and prosperity,” he added.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari delivered a lengthy speech in English and criticised the government’s foreign and economic policies. He paid tribute to the country’s security forces for giving a befitting response to the recent Indian aggression. “I pay tribute to brave soldiers who sacrifice so much to keep us safe.”

He said it was PPP founder and former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s foresight that developed Pakistan’s nuclear capability and Benazir Bhutto had provided missile technology to Pakistan and further strengthened the country’s defence.

He said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tyrannical government had broken all records of inhumanity and the world stood idly while young Kashmiris were blinded by pellet guns, used as human shields and their women were being raped. He called for the plebiscite to take place and for Kashmiris to “deploy the democratic right and choose their destiny”.

The PPP chairman said Pakistan had made the most utmost and sincerest efforts for de-escalation and appreciated the cooperation shown by the opposition members.

He criticised the government for releasing the captured Indian pilot very soon. “We have handed over India pilot without India’s demand,” he added. He also criticised the government’s economic policies and said people had been pressed under unprecedented inflation. He said the budget debate should have continued for two or three days so that all parties could have given their input to it, adding that the mini-budget was being passed in haste.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi invited Mr Bhutto-Zardari, Shahbaz Sharif and other parliamentary leaders to give their input on the country’s foreign policy.

“I would like to thank PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif for showing solidarity with the people of Pakistan in this state of alertness.

“Bilawal offered that in these testing times, he is willing to take a bipartisan approach on foreign policy. I take this offer and I invite Bilawal and Shahbaz Sharif and the leader of the MMA to the Foreign Office. We are willing to seek their input on foreign policy, because this is a time when the nation stands together; to send a message to the East that Pakistan is united to defend itself,” he added.

“Two Indian planes were shot down by the Pakistan Air Force on Feb 27,” Mr Qureshi said. He identified the pilots who shot down the Indian jets as Squadron Leader Hassan Siddiqui and Wing Commander Nauman Ali Khan and said he wanted to pay tribute to them.

Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N said the government had slowed down the economy and put the nation under more foreign debts. He said the PTI had presented two budgets in six months which showed that it was not prepared to rid the country of the crisis. “Before elections PTI chairman Imran Khan claimed that he has think tanks with him and will solve all problems of the country when come to the power,” he said.

The PML-N leader said India and Bangladesh were progressing, while “we are going backward”. Mr Iqbal also expressed apprehensions that due to an increase in value of dollar against the rupee the defence budget of the country had reduced from $9 billion to $7b. On the other hand, he added, Indian was enhancing its defence budget.

Later, the opposition staged a walkout and the house passed the mini-budget.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2019