The Senate on Tuesday again saw an intense debate over retired military officers holding key positions in the National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) and other state organisations, with opposition senators demanding details of such appointments but state minister Ali Muhammad Khan equating the query to "hatred for the armed forces".
The matter, which was previously discussed on December 29, saw Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Senator Mushtaq Ahmed complain that he had specifically asked for the number of ex-military men rehired in Nadra but was instead given a general figure saying that the Authority has 13,997 employees in total.
"I asked this question because unemployment in Pakistan has surged, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. The youth are not getting employment and on the other hand, we are specifically recruiting retired personnel of the armed forces in good positions," the senator said.
At this, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani remarked that Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid was "probably the minister in charge of answering this question".
"A strange tradition has been set here that apart from one or two federal ministers no one else comes to the parliament to answer questions. This is a matter of the Senate's honour," he said.
Rabbani requested the Senate chairman to compel ministers concerned to answer the questions raised in the parliament regarding their departments.
Responding to Senator Ahmed's question, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan repeated the answer he provided in the previous session, suggesting that a fresh query be submitted over the specific issue of rehiring retired armed forces personnel.
At this, the JI senator insisted that the question he submitted was specifically regarding military hiring but the minister also maintained that the question he received was only about deputations in general.
"Why don't you [admit] that you have hired dozens of retired armed forces personnel and you don't want to take their names in the House?" Ahmed asked.
"You have hired dozens and many more personnel of the army, air force and navy in very prestigious positions in Nadra. The whole Nadra is in their (armed forces') control and our youth are wandering around jobless.
"Why don't you want to take their names and give their details in the House? What is so difficult about it? Why are you misleading the House," the Senator railed against Khan.
The state minister said that the government had nothing to hide and "everything is on record".
"We will give you an answer. The armed forces defend this country and are responsible for security then what can be the reason for such hate [against them]?" Khan asked.
Senator Rabbani asked the minister to confirm or deny that the individuals holding the following positions were from armed forces:
- Director general of Anti-Narcotics force
- Director of Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission
- Chairman of Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority
- Chairman of Pakistan International Airlines
- Chairman of Naya Pakistan Housing Authority
- A member of the National Development Council
- A member of the Economic Advisory Committee
- Chairman of Water and Power Development Authority
- Director of Civil Aviation Authority
- Director of Airport Security Force
- Executive of National Disaster Management Authority
- A member of the Federal Public Service Commission
"We are not at all against the armed forces but we are against this concept of militarisation of civil authority. That is inappropriate. We are standing with Pakistan Army as far as their constitutional role is concerned and we are with them but we are against the militarisation of civilian institutions," the PPP senator said.
Khan reiterated that a fresh query be made over the matter before criticising the PPP for its roots. "The people whose first prime minister and party chairman was Pakistan's first civil martial law administrator shouldn't teach the House about civil-military imbalance," he said.
Regarding Rabbani's list, the minister said that each of those 15 postings had its reasons as he pointed out that even Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto relied on Major-Gen (retd) Naseerullah Khan Babar, who was the interior minister in her cabinet.
He questioned what was wrong if armed forces personnel who were fit for the roles were hired. "We are all Pakistani, someone is wearing a vest and someone is not so stop doing politics on the basis of hatred," Khan said.
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Yousuf Raza Gillani also joined the debate and called on the parliamentary affairs minister to remain focused on the question raised at hand instead of delving into past history otherwise "the issue will go somewhere else far away."
Meanwhile, Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem lamented that matter was being dragged in different directions despite a specific answer being provided. He criticised the opposition, saying: "We know your allegiance. Sometimes it's your season of hatred and sometimes it's your season of love. Maybe nowadays you're subject to some confusion in between."