ISLAMABAD: In a late night development, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Wednesday issued production order for two detained MNAs — former president Asif Ali Zardari of PPP and Khawaja Saad Rafique of PML-N — on the demand of opposition parties, enabling them to attend the ongoing budget session.

Through the production order, copies of which are available with Dawn, the speaker directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and other institutions to produce the two legislators at the commencement of each sitting of the National Assembly, saying he considered their “presence necessary” in the lower house of parliament.

Mr Zardari and Mr Rafique are expected to attend the NA sitting on Thursday (today).

The production order was issued following continuing protests by the opposition parties, particularly the PPP, inside and outside the parliament for the past one week.

To press for their demand, PPP lawmakers had also staged sit-ins outside the speaker’s office on Monday and Tuesday, keeping him besieged for hours.

Production order issued hours after protest against speaker

The speaker had been under pressure over the issue after some members of the ruling coalition had added their voice to the opposition’s.

Speaking on a point of order in the assembly on Tuesday, Aminul Haq of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) had urged the speaker to issue Mr Zardari’s production order in line with parliamentary traditions.

An application submitted to the speaker’s office for the purpose was signed by MNAs belonging to the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, Balochistan Awami Party, Jamhoori Watan Party and the MQM, besides the opposition parties.

In their speeches, the opposition members had criticised the speaker and accused him of taking dictation from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had even demanded the resignation of the speaker at a news conference that he addressed after his father’s arrest.

Earlier in the day, PPP parliamentarians and workers from Rawalpindi and Islamabad had gathered outside the official residence of the speaker at the Ministers Enclave, demanding production order for Mr Zardari.

Prominent PPP legislators who participated in the protest were Nayyar Bukhari, Sherry Rehman, Shazia Marri, Abdul Qadir Patel, Rubina Khalid, Faisal Karim Kundi, Amir Fida Paracha, Sibte Haider Bukhari and Iftikhar Shahzada.

The issuance of the production order for Mr Zardari was confirmed by senior PPP leader Khurshid Shah.

PML-N’s information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb later told Dawn that the speaker had also issued the production order for the former railways minister and a firebrand leader from Lahore Khawaja Saad Rafique, who has been in NAB custody since December in the Paragon housing scheme scam.

The PPP and PML-N leaders expressed ignorance if the speaker had also issued the production order for two MNAs from tribal areas, Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, who were on judicial remand after their arrest on charges of attacking a military post in North Waziristan last month.

Mr Zardari was arrested by the NAB after the cancellation of his bail by the Islamabad High Court in the fake bank accounts case on June 10, a day before the presentation of the federal budget by the government.

Next day, angry opposition members created a rumpus in the National Assembly at the time of the budget speech by Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar in the presence of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Annoyed over the opposition’s protest, the treasury members in a tit-for-tat move prevented the Leader of Opposition Shahbaz Sharif from opening the debate on the budget by creating ruckus for three consecutive days. It was only due to intervention by Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri that the two sides agreed to allow budget speeches in the lower house of parliament.

At the outset of the NA sitting on Wednesday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari while speaking on a point of order had reminded the speaker that one week had passed since presentation of the federal budget, but the production order for Mr Zardari and three other MNAs had not been issued by him.

In response to opposition’s protests, the speaker had stated that he had sought a legal opinion from the Ministry of Law and Justice on the matter and that he would make a decision after receiving a report from the ministry.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2019