Minister sounds alarm in NA over locust threat

Updated January 31, 2020

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Admitting on the floor of the National Assembly that the prevailing situation due to a locust attack is “unprecedented and alarming”, Minister for National Food Security Makhdoom Khusro Bakh­tiar on Thursday hinted at declaring a “national emergency” in the country to deal with the crisis. — DawnNewsTV/File
Admitting on the floor of the National Assembly that the prevailing situation due to a locust attack is “unprecedented and alarming”, Minister for National Food Security Makhdoom Khusro Bakh­tiar on Thursday hinted at declaring a “national emergency” in the country to deal with the crisis. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: Admitting on the floor of the National Assembly that the prevailing situation due to a locust attack is “unprecedented and alarming”, Minister for National Food Security Makhdoom Khusro Bakh­tiar on Thursday hinted at declaring a “national emergency” in the country to deal with the crisis.

Responding to points of order raised by some members, including PML-N MNA from Bahawalpur Riaz Pirzada, regarding the danger to agriculture due to the locust attack almost all over the country, the minister informed the house that the government had already prepared a national action plan (NAP) to deal with the crisis and Prime Minister Imran Khan had convened a meeting on Friday (today) to review the situation, which would be attended by the provinces and other stakeholders.

“There is a big threat. If we have to declare national emergency, we will do it,” the minister declared, disclosing that Pakistan had already entered “third category” and was just one step away from entering the last one. He said there were four categories known as “Green, Yellow, Orange and Red”, adding that “Pakistan is already in the Orange category”.

Mr Bakhtiar said the situation was worse than the one Pakistan faced in 1993. At that time, he added, locusts had not been traced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but this time they were found in Dera Ismail Khan as well. Presently, he said, swarms of locust were present on the Pakistan-India border along Cholistan, adding that locusts had entered Cholistan and Nara from Sindh and Balochistan. Previously, he said, locusts used to move to Iran after sometime, but perhaps this time due to low temperatures they were still present in Pakistan.

Opposition stages walkout over govt move to extend duration of ordinances; Dawar and Murad exchange heated arguments

Mr Bakhtiar said the government was vigilant to the situation and had already allocated Rs500 million for the purpose. He said sufficient funds had already been provided to the provinces.

The minister then indirectly attacked the previous governments, saying that in 1993, the plant protection department had effectively combated locusts as it had some 20 aircraft for spraying and a number of vehicles for ground operations. Now, he regretted, there were no aircraft and vehicles. He said two pilots had already lost their lives during the operation against locusts.

Earlier, speaking on a point of order, PML-N’s Riaz Pirzada said locusts had started breeding and farmers were worried about the situation. He criticised the Punjab government for its alleged neglect in the matter.

At the outset of the opening day of the new NA session, the opposition protested over the government’s move to convene the assembly session before time for what they called seeking extension to the already promulgated ordinances and for laying three new ordinances.

The opposition members also staged a walkout leaving behind a few members only to point out lack of quorum, but Speaker Asad Qaiser declared the house in order after a headcount and continued the proceedings in the absence of the opposition.

Before leaving the house, PPP MNA and former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf lashed out at the government for convening the session almost two weeks earlier only for the sake of seeking approval for the ordinances. He termed the move an “insult” to parliament and said they did not come to the assembly only to endorse ordinances.

The house later approved the resolutions seeking a further extension of 120 days in duration of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority Ordinance 1999 and Tax Laws (First Amendment) 1999.

The opposition members led by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari entered the house when the assembly had already finished its agenda and the speaker was giving the floor to the members to raise any matter of public importance.

PTM arrests

The lower house of parliament also witnessed an exchange of heated arguments between Minister for Communications Murad Saeed and Mohsin Dawar, an independent MNA backed by Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, over the recent arrest of PTM chief Manzoor Pashteen and other party activists on treason charges.

Mr Saeed, who is known for his firebrand speeches, defended the crackdown on the PTM, alleging that the movement had been carrying out its activities in the country at the behest of Afghanistan.

Alleging that the PTM was actually opposed to the idea of fencing of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, he wondered why Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued statements each time an action was taken against the PTM. “Pakistan became safe by securing its borders. But you say that the fence should be cut down,” he said, addressing the PTM-backed lawmakers.

The minister demanded MNA Ali Wazir take back the words he uttered against parliament. He criticised the statements of PTM leaders against security forces and said the border fencing had protected the people living in tribal areas. He said certain elements were running a campaign against the armed forces.

Mohsin Dawar in his first speech after his release from police detention on Wednesday said the trend of declaring everyone a “traitor” should be stopped, terming it a “dangerous project” for the country.

“Those who have launched the project of declaring everyone in the country a traitor should be stopped. Otherwise, a time will come when the whole nation, except a few government officers, will be declared traitors,” he said in his address to the lower house.

Mr Dawar said PTM chief Manzoor Pashteen was arrested on Jan 27, two days after Defence Minister Pervez Khattak offered to hold a dialogue with the group.

“Who is running the affairs of the country?” he asked.

He said that today they were being dubbed traitors as in the past similar charges were levelled against people like Bacha Khan, Wali Khan, Asfandyar Wali Khan, G.M. Syed, Fatima Jinnah and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. “The charges against these people have never been proven in any court of law. The only person convicted under treason charges is [former military ruler retired] Gen Pervez Musharraf.

“When he [Gen Musharraf] was convicted, the spokesman for an institution questioned the conviction. This is a dangerous thing,” he said.

Mr Dawar said he was among the 29 people who were arrested from outside the press club in Islamabad while protesting against Mr Pashteen’s arrest. He said the policeman who dragged him and put him in the vehicle was raising slogans of ‘Islam Zindabad’ and ‘Death to India’.

“What kind of mindset is being developed? Now we are being declared disbelievers as well,” he said.

Mr Dawar said that even Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi were facing terrorism charges. He said they had not damaged even a single plant during their movement, whereas the PTI had attacked the Parliament House and the PTV building.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2020