The opposition on Monday sharply rebuked the government for its "criminal negligence" in dealing with the events that lead to the deaths of at least 22 tourists in Murree over the weekend and called for the formation of a judicial commission to probe the tragic incident.
The NA was originally slated to discuss the controversial Finance (Supplementary) Bill, generally known as the mini-budget. However, the discussion was deferred for tomorrow (Tuesday).
Shortly after the recitation of the Holy Quran and the singing of the national anthem, NA Speaker Asad Qaiser said that the House would discuss the tragic incident in Murree and would discuss the finance bill tomorrow as an "understanding" had been reached with the opposition.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif began his speech by castigating the government over its "failure" in handling the situation.
"There was heavy snowfall, but there was no one to ask about the people. Innocent children, the youth and the elderly died and nobody asked about their [well-being] for 20 hours."
Shehbaz questioned whether the incident was a "natural" occurrence or "manslaughter".
"The reality is that there were no arrangements in place," he said, adding that traffic officials and authorities responsible for removing the snow were not present.
"People kept asking for help but no one showed up [...]. This was a criminal act of negligence and inefficiency and cannot be pardoned. When the Met Office had warned of excessive snowfall, what measures did the government take?"
If there was an influx of tourists flocking to the hill station, what steps did the government take to deter them, he asked. "Was a red alert issued? You can't hide from the facts."
Shehbaz stated that this was not the first time that it had snowed in Murree or the first time that tourists had inundated the hill station. He said that people were unable to visit for the past two years due to the pandemic, but their happiness had turned into sorrow due to the government's "corrupt approach, worst criminal negligence and administrative inefficiency".
He said that the entire country was grieving but government officials were not bothered. "They said that the administration was not prepared. If that was the case then what are you there for? Resign and go home."
Shehbaz said that a sitting minister had also commented during this period about how good the country's economy was doing which was evident in the way thousands were visiting Murree.
His comment was an apparent reference to remarks made by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry in which he had linked the increase in tourists to the people's economic prosperity.
"There was no space in Murree's hotels. When this incident occurred [...] one Nero was asleep in Islamabad and the other was busy rigging [the polls]."
He said that the government was giving excuses when it was responsible for putting preventive measures in place. "SOPs were in place for several years. The PML-N government had procured and installed machinery [...] funds were issued to departments to store salt. There was a supervisory committee and the traffic police was assigned responsibilities."
He alleged that the government dealt with the incident in the same way it was handling the country.
"I believe this is a criminal act," Shehbaz said, reiterating that the PML-N government used to have steps in place to combat snowfall in Murree.
He said that the government was "100 per cent responsible" for the deaths of the tourists. "The nation will not forgive them and will hold them accountable."
Shehbaz also termed the committee, which includes civil servants, formed by the government to investigate the incident a "joke".
"People died because of their criminal negligence and they say a committee will investigate," he said, adding that the "murders" would not be forgiven.
Instead, he demanded the formation of a judicial commission to investigate the incident so that the culprits could be exposed to the nation. He said that a resolution should also be passed by the House in this regard.
Shehbaz has nothing to say: Fawad
The information minister spoke after Shehbaz wrapped up his tirade against the government and lashed out at the opposition leader for not speaking like a leader.
"He [Shehbaz] is here after taking an exemption from court. I thought he would speak like a leader but he has once again proven that he is just a trickster who has nothing to say," Chaudhry said.
The minister said that the entire nation was in sorrow over the incident in Murree. "It was thought that this incident would be discussed in a manner that leads to unity, but leaders are born and not made through false means."
He claimed that the Sharif family had created "palaces" using government resources instead of spending it on development and infrastructure in Punjab and Murree.
"They are questioning a government that created 13 new tourist resorts in three years," he said, adding that Prime Minister Imran Khan was the first to promote the country as a tourist destination.
"Today, when there is a revolution in the country's tourism, they are teaching us about what should and should not have been done."
The minister said that more than 100,000 tourists entered Murree over the span of five days. He added that while PTI MNAs and MPAs were helping with the rescue efforts, PML-N leaders were nowhere to be spotted.
"There was no other party present on ground except for the PTI," he said, adding that the roads were cleared in 24 hours. "The Punjab chief minister, the federal government, PTI ministers and workers were all in Murree."
The minister said that there was a tragic incident every other day when Shehbaz was the Punjab chief minister, adding that during PML-N's tenure their focus was on building their "palaces".
"A new reality of internal tourism has developed in Pakistan which can't be operated using the old administrative setup. The government is trying to implement a more modern setup and administrative structure to cater to this large a number of people."
He said that because of the ineptitude of past governments, the current one had to build everything from scratch. "We are building the Naya Pakistan we had promised."
Bilawal lashes out at govt's 'hypocrisy'
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari began by lamenting the fact that innocent families and children, who were stranded in snow a mere two hours from the capital, did not receive the help they deserved.
On the other hand, the government took all necessary measures when a relative of the premier was stuck in Chitral due to bad weather, he said in an apparent reference to PM Imran's sister Aleema Khan who was among tourists rescued after a glacial outburst in 2019.
He said that the common man was in danger "just two hours away" from the prime minister's house. "There were messages on social media. Phone calls were being made to bureaucratic offices and to police officials so that someone could take notice."
In an apparent reference to Chaudhry, who had left the assembly at this point, Bilawal said that a minister was celebrating the influx of tourists in Murree and hailed it as proof of the country's economic progress.
"And when news of the incident broke, instead of expressing grief and ensuring help, the same minister started victim-blaming on social media and said that the people shouldn't have gone."
Bilawal said that the country hadn't ever seen such "hypocrisy", but added that this was expected from this government.
"Since the PTI government came into power, the prime minister and officials always blame the victims."
He recalled that when the Hazaras in Quetta staged a protest in early 2021 against the killing of 11 miners in a residential compound near a mine site in Balochistan's Mach coalfield area, PM Imran had told them to stop blackmailing him by refusing to bury the bodies.
He noted that government officials had also done the same when the gang-rape of a woman occurred on the Lahore motorway in 2020.
"And when the Murree incident happened just two hours away from the prime minister's house, the prime minister took to social media to say that the tourists should have checked the weather."
He reiterated the opposition leader's demand for a judicial inquiry into the incident so that action could be taken against those responsible.
"We will only be able to make arrangements for preventing such incidents in the future after conducting a proper investigation."
Bilawal said that inflation was at an all-time high in Pakistan but the blood of the people was "cheap". He said forgetting the incident and merely forming a committee to investigate it would be an injustice to the families of the victims.
He added that Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar was attending a PTI meeting when the incident was taking place. "The entire nation saw that the army and the administration managed the rescue work. He merely conducted an aerial inspection and returned."
He said that if the prime minister and the Punjab chief minister were truly elected representatives, they would have immediately reached the hill station to help the people. "If they were unable to reach them, then they should have contacted their families to offer condolences."
PPP's Khursheed Shah and PTI's Riaz Fatyana were among several lawmakers that addressed the session after Bilawal concluded his speech. Later, the NA session was adjourned till 4:00pm on Tuesday (tomorrow).