NA sees debate over Banigala after operation against Khokhars in Lahore

Published January 30, 2021
The front lawn of Imran Khan’s Bani Gala mansion. ─ Mohammad Ali/White Star
The front lawn of Imran Khan’s Bani Gala mansion. ─ Mohammad Ali/White Star

• MNA moves privilege motion against demolition of house
• Award of damages to Broadsheet questioned

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s hilltop house in Banigala resurfaced again in the National Assembly debate on Friday when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) member Afzal Khokhar moved a privilege motion against the razing of his house in Lahore last Sunday.

The government, however, defended the operation.

When Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan questioned the tabling of the motion and said, “this house cannot defend land grabbers”, the PML-N members stood up from their seats. Some of them even surrounded the speaker’s dais and raised slogans.

The issue of the UK-based assets recovery firm, Broadsheet, also remained in the spotlight.

Opposition members questioned whether awarding damages to Broadsheet came under the purview of the Assets Recovery Unit and if the government had hired any other firm to trace offshore properties and assets of Pakistanis.

The house was informed that people, especially those in the low income group, were compelled to pay 30 to 40 per cent taxes on the use of mobile phones.

“On one hand, the illegal palatial house of Prime Minister Imran Khan in Banigala has been regularised at a cost of Rs1.2 million while on the other my legitimate house is demolished,” Afzal Khokhar said in his privilege motion.

“If we are land grabbers, then Imran Khan is Qabza Mafia as well,” the PML-M member said, adding that, “I have not given my sisters sewing machines from the government funds”.

He said he was the fifth bona fide purchaser of the demolished house.

Refuting Babar Awan’s claim, Mr Khokhar said the local administration, police and Lahore Development Authority carried out the operation at about 4am despite stay orders from the Lahore High Court.

“My daughters and sisters were sleeping in the house when the eight-hour long operation was carried out, forcing them to stand outside in the cold weather,” he said, adding that “sisters and daughters are not kept in illegal houses”.

The PML-N member said his house was razed to punish him for his loyalty to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family. “We will remain loyal to Nawaz Sharif forever,” he added.

Mr Khokhar asked National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar to send the matter to the relevant standing committee of the lower house to thoroughly discuss it.

“I challenge Babar Awan that if I am found guilty, I will accept any punishment announced by the speaker, but what punishment would you suggest for yourself if you are found to be wrong,” he added.

At this, the speaker reserved his ruling on the motion and did not send the matter to the privilege committee.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, during his visit to Sahiwal on Friday, had said Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were backing Qabza Mafia in Lahore.

Later, PML-N leaders Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal held a joint press conference outside the Parliament House, in which they said if the privilege committee could not look into Afzal Khokhar’s case then what could it do.

“Demolishing Khokhar Palace is a malicious attempt of the government against the opposition,” Mr Abbasi said in the press conference.

The NA speaker became furious when the PML-N members protested against Babar Awan’s remarks and snubbed former federal minister Ahsan Iqbal.

“You call yourself a professor; is this the way you talk,” he remarked.

Earlier, during the question hour, PML-N leader Murtaza Javed Abbasi said mobile phone companies were charging 30 to 40 per cent taxes on phone bills.

“These companies are collecting advance tax, sale tax and tax of mobile cards,” he added.

Babar Awan endorsed Mr Abbasi’s point, but said the present government had reduced withholding tax on mobile phone users from 14pc to 12pc.

Replying to Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Naveed Qamar, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar said the present government had not made any agreement with an assets recovery firm, including Broadsheet.

“We are now focusing on government to government deals,” he said.

Another PML-N member Shiza Fatima asked under what criteria the number of Ehsaas programme beneficiaries had been increased.

“The last poverty survey was conducted in 2018 and we heard that the government had excluded over 800,000 beneficiaries from the Benazir Income Support Programme but later included hundreds of thousands under what basis,” she added.

Ms Fatima questioned why the number of Higher Education Commission’s scholarships had been reduced.

To this, a treasury member replied that scholarships had in fact been increased as a large number was being provided through the Ehsaas programme.

Earlier, NA Speaker Asad Qaisar expressed his displeasure over the absence of ministers and parliamentary secretaries from the house.

Babar Awan and Naveed Qamar endorsed the speaker and said in the absence of ministers, at least the parliamentary secretaries should attend the proceedings.

“The Senate is quite strict on the issue and does not allow any parliamentary secretary to speak on behalf of the minister,” Mr Qamar added.

Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2021

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