Senate debates ‘militarisation’ of civil institutions

Published January 19, 2022
A combination photo of PPP Senator Raza Rabbani, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan and Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed speaking in the Senate session on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV
A combination photo of PPP Senator Raza Rabbani, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan and Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed speaking in the Senate session on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Tuesday saw a “war of words” over what the opposition called “militarisation” of civil institutions, with the government defending the induction of serving and retired military officers in different institutions arguing that they too were Pakistani citizens.

The heated debate over the issue began when Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Senator Mushtaq Ahmed protested over reluctance of the Ministry of Interior to provide details of serving and retired military officers serving in National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) along with their perks and privileges.

Raising the issue in the house for a second time in recent days, the JI senator said that the ministry had instead given the general answer that the Nadra had a total of 13,997 employees. “I have asked this as unemployment has increased according to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. On one the hand, youth are not getting jobs while on the other we are hiring retired personnel of armed forces on lucrative positions.”

National Security Policy will be shared with parliament, govt assures opposition

In his response, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan said the basic question was about ‘officials working on deputation’ in Nadra. “No official of armed forces including army, navy and air force is working in the Authority on deputation.” The minister suggested to the house that a fresh question should be submitted over the issue of rehiring of retired armed forces personnel.

The JI senator reacting to the suggestion asserted that he had sought details about ‘positions and perks of serving and retired officials of armed forces’ working in Nadra. “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?” he questioned.

The minister said that the armed forces were responsible for Pakistan’s security. “But I am surprised what can be the reason for such hate?” he asked. “We are ready to give you the data…We will give you the answer,” he claimed, reiterating that the lawmaker should submit a fresh question for that.

At this point, Senator Raza Rabbani of Pakistan Peoples Party asked the minister to just deny or confirm that the individuals, serving or retired, from armed forces were holding at least 15 posts in different civil institutions. He also read out a list that included director general of Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), director of Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission, chairman of Pakistan International Airlines, chairman of Naya Pakistan Housing Authority, chairman of Water and Power Development Authority, director general of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and director general of Airports Security Force and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chairman besides others.

“We are not against the armed forces but we are opposed to this concept of militarisation of civil authority. That is inappropriate,” he said. “We are standing with Pakistan Army as far as their constitutional role is concerned, but we are against the militarisation of civilian institutions,” he remarked.

Minister Khan chided the PPP for giving lectures on civil-military imbalance, reminding that their party chairman Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was Pakistan’s first civil martial law administrator.

Each of those 15 postings had valid reasons, the minister said, adding that they were needed in the ANF, CAA and NDMA because of their expertise in such fields.

Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem lamented that the matter was being ‘twisted’ as the opposition was focusing on the military despite the fact that a specific answer had been provided. “The military belongs to Pakistan. They are citizens of this country. They are not outsiders,” he added.

Meanwhile, the government assured the upper house of parliament that it would table its first-ever National Security Policy (NSP) before the parliament after former Senate chairman Rabbani raised the issue and the opposition protested that the legislature had been kept in dark about the policy that had placed economic security at its core.

Senator Rabbani said that neither the parliament nor provinces had been taken into confidence over the recently launched NSP by the government. He said the prime minister should have shared all the important points of the policy in the National Assembly or Senate. “This policy has not been laid before the parliament till today,” he deplored. It would remain ineffective without an input from the provinces, parliament and civil society, he said.

“We will not give this right to state that non-elected people while sitting with the executive make future policies or future action plans and parliament is not taken into confidence over this.”

The opposition lawmaker reiterated the demand that the policy must be tabled before the parliament.

Responding to the queries of PPP lawmaker, Dr Waseem said that all stakeholders had been invited for discussion when the policy was being drafted. At draft stage, the policy was presented before the Parlia­mentary Committee on National Security for deliberations but the opposition preferred to boycott that meeting, he said.

He claimed that a specific portion of the policy was classified. “We are going to present the policy before the standing committee on defence,” he announced, adding that the government was also ready to present it before any parliamentary forum.

Minister for Railways Azam Khan Swati told the House that 4,451 acres of Pakistan Railways land had been leased out during the last three years.

The Senate was also apprised that 230 train coaches had been procured to provide better services to commuters. He said the country would receive the first consignment of the railway carriage within next three to four months.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2022

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