• Opposition stages token walkout, noisy protest in front of chairman’s podium
• Says NSP framed without taking parliament on board
• Leader of house alleges opposition skipped national security meeting due to absence of ‘people in military uniform’

ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the Senate on Wednesday called into question the National Security Policy (NSP) framed without taking parliament on board, sparking a war of words and rumpus in the house.

The opposition also staged a token walkout from the house against the move, besides lodging a noisy protest in front of the chairman’s podium.

Raising the issue, PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman said reports suggested that the new policy, yet to be shared with parliament, would be based on economic centrality. She said despite being the primary arena for policy development, the NSP had been approved at a meeting of the National Security Committee without expected consultation from parliamentarians.

Ms Rehman said that instead of evolving consensus in parliament on the NSP and other issues of economic importance and civilian safety, the government continued to bulldoze bills and disregard democratic norms. “How can the country be secured if its economic and security policies are not audited by its public representatives?” she asked.

She said there had been no consultation with the opposition regarding the NSP, nor had its draft been presented to parliamentarians. “Our history is replete with failed policies which did not succeed because they were made behind closed doors.”

The PPP senator said there was a paper out there saying that economy would be central, but wondered what the new economic security policy was all about.

“Is Pakistan going to be secured with the mini-budget run directly from IMF or by the State Bank which is no longer going to be answerable to Pakistan? If economic security will flow from the IMF’s complete and crippling control of the economy, then this policy is highly questionable,” he said.

“How can the government speak about an NSP that focuses on economic development when the economic situation under the incumbent government has proven disastrous for the people? This government is responsible for unprecedented levels of rupee devaluation, a current account deficit of $7 billion in this financial year alone, inflation rate of 11.50 per cent and has racked up Rs50.5 trillion in debt and liabilities for Pakistan. People are unable to afford two square meals and those who can afford them do not have enough gas in their stoves to cook,” she added.

Ms Rehman said the reports suggested that the NSP would encompass anti-terror efforts to ensure civilian safety and economic development. “Securing Pakistan’s economy and population from violent extremism is the country’s main priorities. But what’s actually happening is far different as groups like TTP (Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan), who have declared jihad against the Pakistani state, are being offered amnesty. Additionally, the government has not made a draft of the NSP available to the public; how can a document focusing on safety and security not be provided to those it aims to protect?” she asked.

The PPP senator said the government claimed that this was a revolutionary and unprecedented policy; however, incorporating economic development within national security policies had been done time and time again during the tenures of previous governments.

“During the PPP government, we focused on regional trade from a framework of national security and implemented policies to uplift Pakistan’s economic standing both nationally and regionally. The PPP used to make national security policy in complete consultation with parliament and the opposition. It was always done by the prime minister; we are not about to get used to another system where no parliamentary leader takes responsibility for policy,” Ms Rehman said.

The house witnessed pandemonium after Leader of the House in the Senate Dr Shahzad Wasim chided the opposition for skipping the meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, saying the reason was simply the absence of “people in military uniform”.

He said the opposition’s claim that it had boycotted the meeting because the prime minister was not attending it made no sense as they did attend a briefing on national security which too was not attended by the prime minister.

The opposition members gathered close the chair’s dais, raising anti-government slogans. On the other hand, the treasury members in a counter move gathered close to the seat of Shahzad Wasim to chant anti-opposition slogans.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani kept on asking them to go to their seats and exercise their right to protest from there, but to no avail.

Dr Wasim said Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government was the first one in the country’s history that had formulated the NSP paper. Talking about the economic security, he said the PPP went to the International Monetary Fund 10 times and the PML-N got lending from it four times during their days in power. He said both parties got the IMF loans but never made structural reforms.

PML-N Senator Afnanullah Khan said the spirit of the NSP, as reported in the press, was not bad but most of its points were general and not specific. It states that security of citizens and the economy will be central, but the document doesn’t tell how both these targets would be achieved, he argued.

The opposition lawmaker said that if the economy would be central then all resources would have to be redirected towards revival of the economy. He said the opposition should have been taken into confidence when the NSP was being framed.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan informed the house during the question hour that out of around 14,000 employees of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), only six, including Director General Ali Nawaz Malik, were on deputation and none of the six was a retired military officer.

In reply to a volley of supplementary questions about the number of retired army officers permanently absorbed in Nadra, their designations and ‘special qualification’, Mr Khan claimed that no one had been given special privilege and promised to share the details with the Senate.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2021

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