ISLAMABAD: The opposition on Thursday disrupted the National Assembly proceedings by staging a walkout and then pointing out lack of quorum to protest over non-issuance of production order for MNA Rana Sanaullah and “failure” of the authorities to produce two other detained PML-N lawmakers in the house despite the issuance of their production orders by Speaker Asad Qaiser.

The members of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), an ally of the PTI-led coalition government, also joined the opposition’s protest after its chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal raised the issue of the arrest of four women in Awaran on charges of terrorism.

The opposition members, led by Mr Mengal, also staged a sit-in in front of the speaker’s dais for sometime before going out of the house when Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri gave the floor to Communications Minister Murad Saeed to respond.

In his hard-hitting speech, the BNP chief also threatened to part ways with the government if the women were not released and the people of Balochistan were not given their due rights.

Govt ally BNP-M joins protest; Mengal slams arrest of four women in Awaran on terror charges

The deputy speaker adjourned the proceedings till Friday morning (today) after a headcount because only 75 members were present in the 342-member house. Under the rules, the presence of 86 members (one-fourth of the total members) is required to maintain quorum of the assembly.

Before announcing adjournment, Mr Suri, who himself belongs to Balochistan, issued directives that Interior Minister retired Brigadier Ijaz Shah come to the house on Friday to give a policy statement on the matter as to why the women had been picked up. He said he had already referred the matter to the house committee on interior headed by ruling party MNA Khurram Shahzad Nawaz.

Soon after the question hour, PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal took the floor and alleged that the Punjab government was defying the speaker’s directives and not producing former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique to the house despite the issuance of production order for him. He said that even a section officer of the interior ministry could ensure the presence of the detained MNAs in the house, but the status of the speaker had been lowered down to a section officer which was an “insult” to the whole house.

Mr Iqbal also lashed out at the speaker for not issuing the production order for PML-N lawmaker Rana Sanaullah, who had been arrested by the Anti-Narcotics Force on charges of carrying drugs in his car. Alleging that the opposition members had been arrested as part of the ongoing political victimisation campaign, he declared that the opposition would not participate in the assembly proceedings until the “respect for the speaker’s chair is not restored”.

When the opposition members were leaving the house, Akhtar Mengal signalled them to stop and listen to his speech. He alleged that four women were “abducted” last month by the officials of law enforcement agencies and were kept in a “torture cell”.

He regretted that the women were shown to the media with weapons in front of them, alleging that these women were being implicated in “fake cases”. “It is not understandable as to who is running Balochistan? Is it the federal government or the provincial government or by the unseen forces?” he asked.

The BNP-M chief said Balochistan could not be run on gunpoint, adding that in the past dictators like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Pervez Musharraf had tried to run the province on gunpoint but they failed. “Like you can’t force anyone to change the religion on gunpoint, you cannot make a Balochi a Pakistani on gunpoint without giving him equal rights,” he added.

He regretted that the speaker had announced formation of a committee on Balochistan, but the committee was yet to be constituted.

As soon as Mr Mengal took his seat, the deputy speaker gave floor to the communications minister, but the opposition prevented him from speaking when PPP’s Abdul Qadir Patel pointed out lack of quorum.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2019