ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs will meet on Jan 19 to scrutinise foreign visits of Prime Minister Imran Khan and former rulers of the country besides taking up the issue of over 9,000 Pakistanis languishing in prisons of 73 different countries.

The two issues were referred to the house committee by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani on Jan 4 after a verbal clash between opposition members and a government minister as the latter targeted former rulers Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari while responding to a question asked by Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Senator Mushtaq Ahmed about foreign visits of Prime Minister Imran Khan over the last three years, along with details of those who had accompanied him in these tours.

The issue of over 9,000 prisoners abroad will also be discussed

The opposition members had also staged a walkout to register their protest over the statement made by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan while responding to a number of supplementary questions about the foreign visits of Mr Khan over the past three years.

The Senate had been informed that the prime minister had undertaken 31 visits of 14 countries over the last three years which cost the national exchequer over Rs200 million. Overall, the prime minister remained out of the country for 47 days due to these visits.

Reading out the written reply, the JI senator had said that the prime minister had undertaken eight visits of Saudi Arabia, three visits each of China and the UAE and two visits each of Malaysia, Qatar, the US and Switzerland. Besides this, the prime minister also visited Turkey, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The JI senator said according to the reply, which was not available to other senators and the reporters at that time, on average 22 people accompanied the prime minister in these visits. He, however, said that in one of the visits to Saudi Arabia, the prime minister was accompanied by 44 people. He asked the government to tell as to what diplomatic and economic benefits the country had achieved from these visits.

Interestingly, the written reply of the question showed that a 19-member delegation had visited Saudi Arabia with the prime minister in September 2019 which included Mr Umer Farooq and Arif Mehmood Soni as “friends of the prime minister”.

Responding to the question, the minister as usual started lambasting the previous rulers, stating that he should be allowed time in the next few days so that he could present a comparison of the visits undertaken by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Zardari with those of Mr Khan.

The minister’s reply prompted a strong protest by the opposition, forcing the chairman to ask the minister to give a specific reply.

At this, the minister said PM Khan had never taken unnecessary people with him during the foreign visits. He said a number of security and protocol personnel, besides some ministers concerned, were among those who had visited Saudi Arabia with Mr Khan.

Sadia Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) asked the chairman to refer the matter to the committee where they would be able to analyse the foreign visits of the prime minister and compare them with the visits of the previous rulers. It was on her request that the Senate chairman referred the matter to the house committee concerned.

The committee will also receive a briefing on the status of Pakistani prisoners abroad.

During the question hour on January 4, the Senate was informed that currently 9,191 Pakistanis were languishing in jails of 73 countries.

Details provided to the house show that the highest number of prisoners, 2,555, are in jails of Saudi Arabia, followed by 1,918 in UAE and 884 in Greece. Other countries with the number of Pakistani prisoners included Afghanistan (395), India (345), Oman (309), Italy (291), the UK (273), Turkey (265), China and Malaysia (242 each), Qatar (189), Spain (163), Hong Kong (130), Iraq (109), Germany (105), Iran (100), France (98), Kuwait (65), Bahrain (56), the US (52) and Australia (48).

The Senate was also informed that there were three Pakistani nationals being held in Guantanamo Bay. They are Saifullah Paracha, Mohammad Ahmad Rabbani aka Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani and Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani.

Saifullah Paracha was taken into custody by US authorities from Bangkok in 2003. According to US authorities, he was providing financial, media and other material support to Al Qaeda leaders and operational planners.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2022

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