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Opposition stages walkout as debate on feared ‘rollback’ of 18th Amendment begins in Sindh Assembly

Updated April 19, 2019

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The debate on the adjournment motion tabled by Pakistan Peoples Party’s Ghazala Sial had been scheduled to be held on Thursday. — AFP/File
The debate on the adjournment motion tabled by Pakistan Peoples Party’s Ghazala Sial had been scheduled to be held on Thursday. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Calling a scheduled debate on an adjournment motion against the federal government’s “intention” to roll back the landmark 18th Amendment to the Constitution “nothing but a waste of precious time”, the leader of the opposition walked out of the house on Thursday with three major opposition parties after staging a protest in front of the chair.

The debate on the adjournment motion tabled by Pakistan Peoples Party’s Ghazala Sial had been scheduled to be held on Thursday.

However, opposition leader Firdous Shamim Naqvi stood up when its turn came and told Speaker Siraj Durrani that there was no plan in sight for rolling back the legislation, which was unanimously passed by parliament in 2010.

He said the fear expressed in the adjournment motion was founded on hypothesis and hinged on certain reports that had appeared in a section of the press.

“[The debate on 18th Amendment] is just a waste of time of the house; the 18th Amendment is going nowhere. This [motion] is just a ploy by the government to divert attention from the JITs [joint investigation teams],” said Mr Naqvi as he was told by the chair that the motion had already been approved by the house and it was scheduled for a discussion.

Opposition terms motion a ploy by the government to divert attention from JITs

Speaker Durrani asked him to sit down and take part in the debate, but the opposition leader refused to do so. He was joined, first by the rest of his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf members, and then those belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and the Grand Democratic Alliance.

The mover, Ms Sial, was already allowed by the chair to present the motion before Mr Naqvi confronted it. She was standing, waiting for the nod of the chair to continue.

Uproar ensues

As it happened in previous proceedings of the house, the uproar got worse. The chair asked the PPP lawmaker to speak, at which all opposition members began chanting slogans and speaking aloud with their mikes turned off.

They later moved closer to the chair with placards in their hands scribbled with slogans against the government. They chanted slogans: ‘Smeared with NAB [charges], terrified [of being punished]’, referring to the provincial government.

During the commotion, the chair asked Ms Sial, who was still standing quiet, to speak up.

The opposition members chanted slogans for a few minutes during the opening speech before they marched out of the house.

Ms Sial said the PTI-led government in Islamabad was bent upon scrapping the 18th Amendment without knowing how important the piece of legislation was to keep the federation intact.

Zardari praised

She paid tribute to former president Asif Zardari, who, she said, played a key role in cementing the democratic order.

PPP’s Zulfiqar Shah said Mr Zardari gave greater autonomy to the federating units and filled every hole that could have helped anyone in imposing dictatorship in the future.

Saleem Baloch said there were many things that the 18th Amendment gave to the country, which included “naming” Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that had been “anonymous” for more than a century.

Besides, mandatory education and several other commendable laws would have been scrapped; and all those things would not be acceptable to the people of Pakistan.

Mr Baloch was speaking when the opposition members returned with a few of them chanting same slogans for a while, and then sat on their benches.

However, the chair adjourned the session for a day when other members would take part in the debate.

Toddler’s death sparks debate

The house engaged in a detailed discussion on a recent incident in which a 20-month-old boy was shot and killed by a bullet fired apparently by policemen during an encounter.

It began when MQM-P’s Khwaja Izharul Hasan and PTI’s Khurram Sher Zaman rose on points of order to raise an issue about increasing incidents of police gunfire that had killed unarmed citizens, most of whom were children.

Mr Zaman said the death of Ahsan while he was on the lap of his father in a rickshaw in the Sachal police station limits had saddened everyone and raised questions about the competence of a force, which was supposed to guard the people and not to kill them.

“At least six people, most of them children, have been shot dead by policemen this year and 60 have been killed in the past few months,” said the PTI lawmaker.

He also demanded appointment of a home minister of the province.

Khwaja Izhar said it had “already proved that Nimra [Baig], an MBBS student, had been shot dead a couple of months earlier by a bullet fired by the police”.

He said such incidents in which children were being killed recklessly by police only showed how policemen were irresponsible and out of control and were bereft of experience and competence.

He said harassment of people on streets by policemen was a routine sight in the city; and those who caused deaths of citizens normally got away with their crime.

“They [policemen] are creating terror in the city.”

Local Government Minister Saeed Ghani spoke on behalf of the provincial government and said in the aftermath of orders by the Sindh High Court and the Supreme Court, the provincial government had no control over the police.

He said such a system was only ordered for Sindh while the situation in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in Islamabad was entirely different. He asked every member of the provincial legislature to lodge their protest as why Sindh was being treated differently than the other regions.

He said incidents in which citizens were being killed by police firing were on the rise; yet “this assembly has no right to do legislation and rein in such incidents”.

He said the inspector general of police in Sindh used courts’ orders instead of certain competent authority while posting and transferring officials, which was a very “dangerous” precedent.

“Police are a force, an armed force, which carries lethal weapons and it was mandatory that they should work under the political administration.”

He said the reported incidents were a tip of the iceberg and the actual number of such incidents would be much bigger. He added that though the provincial government had no control over the police, the people asked the government to answer when any tragedy in the wake of police misconduct occurred.

He said the government was drafting legislation to reform police for which the opposition should also chip in.

“This law will not be for the PPP government but the Sindh government, and any party can form Sindh government in the future; and this law will be there to empower them,” said the minister.

He said police could not be given a licence to do as they will; they should be made accountable for whatever action they took and policemen should know someone was there to ask questions about their “unlawful” actions.

Earlier, responding to a calling-attention notice, Energy Minister Imtiaz Shaikh said 10 per cent of the royalty of gas received by the provincial government was being spent on improving infrastructure in the district of gas fields. He told GDA’s Waryam Faqir that schemes worth Rs743 million had been approved against the money from gas royalty, social welfare fund and bonus production in Sanghar.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2019