ISLAMABAD: The opposition’s protest over the arrest of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) stalwart Syed Khursheed Shah marred the National Assembly proceedings on Thursday and the session was prorogued sine die without any business being conducted. The protest started soon after Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri told the house that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had informed him about Mr Shah’s arrest on corruption charges.
Wearing black armbands and raising slogans of ‘shame, shame’, opposition members questioned the PPP leader’s arrest “on the basis of a mere allegation”. They said the NA speaker had not been informed about the arrest before it took place.
Former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said Mr Shah was not going anywhere and he would have responded had a questionnaire been sent to him. The ex-PM said first a case should be investigated and then arrest should be made on the basis of evidence only.
He said parliamentarians had been arrested to humiliate them and asked the chair to read out any details about the arrest if they had been shared by the NAB chairman.
Minister says arrest has been made by NAB and not by government
Mr Ashraf also urged the chair to give an opportunity to Khursheed Shah to respond to accusations against him in the parliament, and threatened a walkout if it was not done.
He said Asad Qaisar was at a conference when Mr Shah was arrested and the NA speaker said the arrest was not in his knowledge. “Has the parliament become so weak that it cannot defend its members,” asked Mr Ashraf.
“The government says businessmen and bureaucrats will not be arrested [by NAB]. Are these arrests only for lawmakers?” he said. “Nobody is stopping the institutions from investigations, but arrests without proof are unacceptable.”
Mr Ashraf was still speaking when his mike was switched off and the deputy speaker said he would now run the house under the rules. However, he switched the mike on following clamour by opposition members.
Mr Ashraf asked the chair to summon NAB officials and ask them to provide evidence of allegations against Mr Shah.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s firebrand leader Khawaja Asif said any assault on the rights of a member of the house should be resisted collectively. He praised Mr Shah for “enhancing prestige and dignity of the house” over the last three decades.
“God forbid, if it happens with you tomorrow, we will defend you as well,” Mr Asif said to the lawmakers sitting on treasury benches.
“Harm is caused to democracy when we become tools in the hands of others against our own colleagues in the parliament,” he said.
He also taunted the deputy speaker by saying that “your loyalties cannot prevail over our oath”. Mr Suri replied that he was also under oath and no one should doubt his loyalty, adding that all members from both sides of the aisle were equal in his eyes.
Nawab Yusuf Talpur of the PPP said the manner in which Mr Shah had been arrested was highly questionable. People entered his house in Islamabad climbing walls and the door of the bedroom where he was sleeping had been smashed.
Minister for Communication Murad Saeed chided the opposition for wearing black armbands. “I thought it is a belated protest over Indian atrocities in Occupied Kashmir,” he said. “But the opposition is trying to score points and politicise everything.”
He said the arrest had been made by NAB and not by the government and recalled that the NAB chairman had been appointed by the PML-N and the PPP with mutual consultation.
“If somebody has assets beyond means, they have some explaining to do,” Mr Saeed argued.
He said the cases against Khursheed Shah had also been initiated during the term of the previous PML-N government.
The opposition wanted more debate on the issue, while responding to Mr Saeed’s remarks, but the deputy speaker announced the start of the question hour. Most members from the opposition stayed out under a strategy and quorum was pointed out by Dr Samina Matloob of the PML-N.
After the quorum bells were rung and a count was made, the house was not found in order and the deputy speaker read out the prorogation order.
Ahead of a National Assembly session, dozens of opposition members staged a protest in front of Parliament House to protest non-issuance of production orders for various imprisoned politicians.
Protesting opposition leaders at the camp included the PML-N’s Khawaja Asif, Ayaz Sadiq, Murtaza Javed Abbasi, Rana Tanveer and Marriyum Aurangzeb and Naveed Qamar, Shazia Marri and Shahida Rehmani of the PPP.
Pictures of arrested leaders, including former president Asif Ali Zardari, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and PML-N leaders Khawaja Saad Rafique and Rana Sanaullah, were displayed at the protest camp. Posters calling for release of former premier Nawaz Sharif and his daughter and PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz were also displayed.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr Asif alleged that the National Assembly speaker was violating the constitution and his oath by denying production orders for imprisoned opposition members and thus “usurping their right” to represent their constituents.
He said the parliament was not subservient to the law ministry or the executive.
“Parliament gives birth to the executive; it does not take dictation from it. This august house is the father of all institutions, even the judges of top court cannot take oath without confirmation of the parliament,” he pointed out.
The PML-N leader said the speaker’s actions, which were contradictory to these truths, were undermining the authority of the house. “It appears that the speaker’s loyalty to his party has overruled his commitment to his oath to uphold supremacy of the parliament and honour the constitution,” Mr Asif said.
“There cannot be a more brutal attack on the parliament than violation of the constitution and oath to please and appease one’s political leadership,” he emphasised.
Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2019