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ISLAMABAD: On a relatively calm day in the National Assembly compared to the last two days, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Asad Umar came to the house on Wednesday for the first time since his removal as finance minister, only to respond to Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s diatribe against him.

However, his response was focused more on the performance of the previous PPP government rather than explaining the reasons behind his removal as questioned by the PPP chairman and other opposition members on the opening day of the present session on Monday.

PPP stalwart Khurshid Shah responded to Mr Umar’s speech and challenged the figures presented by the former finance minister regarding economic conditions in the country during his party’s government in 2008-13.

A sensational speech by Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the chief of his own faction of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), regarding the human rights and security situation in Balochistan was the other highlight of the day’s proceedings.

Human rights minister agrees to points raised by Mengal, says bill against enforced disappearances pending with law ministry

Taking the floor on a “point of personal explanation”, Mr Umar admitted that the growth rate had been slowed down and revenue targets had been missed by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) during eight months of the PTI government, but said the economic situation was even worse during the five-year tenure of the PPP government under Asif Ali Zardari.

Quoting Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s statement that by removing him from the cabinet, the government had admitted to its failure on the economic front, Mr Umar recalled that the PPP had changed four finance ministers in its five-year reign. “There were four finance ministers in the PPP’s government. Each of them failed and went home. If we are ‘not qualified’ and ‘failures’, what, then, were you?” he asked.

“People are worried that the pace of economic development is slow. It is not what Pakistan needs,” the former minister said, recalling that the GDP (gross domestic product) growth rate in the first year of the PPP government was just 0.4 per cent. He said the average growth rate during the five-year PPP government was 2.8pc, “the lowest in the country’s history”. Giving more statistics from the past, Mr Umar said perhaps no one ever had placed this data before Mr Bhutto-Zardari.

Claiming that the present inflation rate is 6.8pc, the former finance minister said that during Asif Zardari’s five-year rule, inflation had hit the 12.3pc mark. He said there was 135pc increase in debt during the PPP government.

Mr Umar then hit out at the opposition members, alleging that they were making a hue and cry only because the noose was being tightened around them for looting the national exchequer. “The government is not doing it. The National Accountability Bureau is doing it and courts are doing it. Fake accounts keep surfacing. Under these circumstances, of course they [the opposition) will be worried,” he said, adding that they were crying because “their Swiss accounts, Surrey Palace, towers in Dubai, Park Lane flats” were in danger.

He clarified that he had neither objected to the PPP chairman’s speech in English during the joint sitting of parliament in the aftermath of the Indian aggression against Pakistan nor had dubbed him a “traitor”.

Khursheed Shah took the floor after Mr Umar left the house and challenged the figures presented by the ex-minister. He said the PPP had assumed power when the country was facing the worst economic situation and terrorism was at its peak. He said the international price of oil was the highest at that time, but they did not pass it on to the people.

Mr Shah said that on the one hand, Prime Minister Imran Khan kept on saying that the PPP had destroyed the economy and looted the national exchequer and, on the other, he had appointed Dr Hafeez Shaikh as adviser who had served as finance minister in the PPP government. He asked the prime minister to investigate from Mr Shaikh as to where had he spent the loan amount and how he allowed corruption when he was the finance minister.

The PPP leader also lashed out at Mr Khan’s recent remarks during his visit to Tehran in which he had said that the country’s soil had been used for carrying out terror attacks in Iran, insisting that Mr Khan should be tried for treason under Article 6 for making such a statement.

Balochistan situation

Taking the floor, BNP chief Akhtar Mengal expressed his surprise over the statement of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi that the terrorists involved in the Ormara attack had come from Iran. He said the foreign minister perhaps didn’t know that the site of the attack was located some 450 kilometres away from the Iranian border. Moreover, he said, only Coastal Highway linked the Iran’s border with other Balochistan cities and there were at least 50 security checkposts on this highway.

Showing pictures of some corpses, Mr Mengal alleged that 22 unidentified people had been buried at a far-flung graveyard by the Edhi administration without making any effort to identify the victims.

The BNP chief regretted that the six-point agreement reached between his party and the PTI at the time of entering into an alliance had not been implemented so far. He said the government had promised to bring a bill against enforced disappearances, but it had not happened.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari agreed to the points raised by Mr Mengal and said there were “some forces” which were creating “impediments” and which did not “want to change the old course”. She said the six-point agreement must be implemented and asked Speaker Asad Qaiser to play his role. She admitted that so far they had not taken the required action against the “real terrorists”.

She said her ministry had prepared the bill against enforced disappearances and it had been pending before the law ministry for a long time.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2019