ISLAMABAD: Minister of State for Narcotics Control Shehryar Afridi on Tuesday pledged on oath in the National Assembly that neither he nor Prime Minister Imran Khan was behind framing drug charges against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Rana Sanaullah after the latter challenged him to make a statement with the Holy Quran in his hands.

It was the first direct interaction in the National Assembly between the two members since the arrest of the PML-N MNA by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) in July last year on charges of carrying a huge quantity of heroin in his car while travelling on Islamabad-Lahore Motorway.

It all started when Mr Afridi while speaking on a “point of personal explanation” reiterated his claim regarding the involvement of Rana Sanaullah in drug smuggling, alleging that the opposition MNA was using delaying tactics and not ready to face court trial under the Control of Narcotics Substances (CNS) Act.

The minister had taken the floor when Sanaullah was not present in the house. However, the PML-N MNA entered the assembly hall carrying a file in his hands amid slogans of Sher, Sher (lion) when the minister was still on his legs.

“The court hearing is on Jan 18. Face the trial like a man,” the minister said.

“I have been told that he (Sanaullah) is carrying around the Holy Quran with him these days. Rana sahib, learn to follow the Holy Quran. If you are speaking the truth, go to the courts and fight like a man,” the minister said while referring to the previous assembly sitting where Sanaullah had brought a copy of the Holy Quran and sworn that he was innocent.

The PML-N leader, who was granted bail in the case by the Lahore High Court last month, alleges that the case has been fabricated against him by the ANF at the behest of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“I thought you will bring a copy of the Holy Quran, but you have brought a file today,” the state minister taunted the MNA from Faisalabad.

Mr Afridi asked Rana Sanaullah to stand up and make an announcement on the floor that he would face the court trial. He said Sanaullah was speaking against the CNS act which had been introduced by the previous PML-N regime, and not by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.

“Don’t run away. This government and ministry will not let you run away. We will take this to the end because this matter concerns my generations and my country,” an emotional Afridi went on saying.

The minister said the victims of Model Town tragedy also wanted to see Sanaullah speaking about the seven-year old incident with Holy Quran in his hands.

“Lets the courts decide if it is a politically-motivated case,” he said.

Taking the floor, Sanaullah again denied his involvement in the case, declaring that he had never been in contact with a heroin dealer or tried to influence on behalf of anyone in his life. He claimed that the ANF officials, who kept him under detention initially for 16 hours after his arrest, had no idea about the case being prepared against him.

“I have been accused of having links with an international gang which supplies drugs to all over the world after bringing it to Lahore and Faisalabad from Afghanistan. If it is true then why has the government not arrested any other member of the gang when I had been in jail for six months?” asked Sanaullah, adding: “No inquiry has been conducted in the case so far.”

The former Punjab law minister said that the trial of a case could only start after registration of a first information report and completion of inquiry.

He said he was ready to state on oath that if he was lying then he should face the wrath of Allah.

Mr Sanaullah then challenged the minister to make a similar statement with Holy Quran in his hands.

At this point, Mr Afridi again requested for the floor, but Fakhar Imam, who was presiding over the sitting in the absence of the speaker and the deputy speaker, refused, saying that such matters could not be decided on Quran and on the floor of the assembly. Referring to the assembly rules, he said the members could not hold a debate on the sub judice matters.

However, the minister kept on asking for the floor and in the meantime, the assembly staff provided a copy of the Holy Quran to Sanaullah who sent it to the minister.

A number of treasury and the opposition members kept on persuading Mr Afridi not to involve the Holy Quran in the matter, but he kept on insisting, forcing the chair to suspend the proceedings for 10 minutes.

When the house resumed, Mr Imam gave the floor to the minister, saying that since Sanaullah had already done so, he was allowing Mr Afridi to make a statement with Holy Quran in his hands, but this should not be made a tradition. He said the minister believed that if he did not do so, the people would take it as he was backtracking.

However, before Mr Afridi taking the floor, someone had taken away the copy of the Holy Quran from his table. The minister refused to speak without the copy of the Holy Quran despite repeated requests by the chair.

Mr Imam first adjourned the sitting till Wednesday morning, but seeing the minister agitating, he again gave him the floor to make a statement.

Mr Afridi declared on oath that neither he nor PM Imran Khan had issued directives for framing the drug charges against Rana Sanaullah, and “if it is so then they would face Allah’s wrath.”

Earlier, two private member’s bills seeking amendments to election rules were tabled in the assembly by Junaid Akbar of the PTI.

Through one bill, the mover has sought a ban on a candidate from contesting elections on more than two seats. The other bill seeks election on reserved women seats.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2020