ISLAMABAD: Ending almost a year-long boycott, opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) senators returned to the joint sitting of parliament on Monday with their signature noisy protest, causing disruptions to the proceedings as both the Senate opposition leader and a minister accused each other of causing chaos in the country.

For the first time since assuming the office in April last year, Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was seen struggling in running the house smoothly as members from both sides continued sloganeering against each other despite warnings from the chair.

Speaker Ashraf on a couple of times was seen losing temper when he warned the opposition senators that they might also not be allowed to speak if they continued interrupting Minister for Communications Asad Mehmood’s speech. He taunted the PTI members by saying, “end your protest now as you have marked your attendance before someone”.

The PTI senators, carrying placards inscribed with anti-government slogans, gathered in front of the speaker’s dais and raised full-throated slogans soon after entering the hall and again when Mr Mehmood in his speech named the sons of Imran Khan, asking the PTI chief to bring them to the country and get them enrolled in some Madressah, if he really wanted to turn the country into a Madina-like state.

Shahzad Waseem strikes a ‘reconciliatory’ note; ministers join ex-Fata members in walkout over non-release of funds; speaker adjourns joint sitting until April 10

In their speeches dominated by political rhetoric, Opposition Leader in the Senate Dr Shahzad Waseem of PTI and Mr Mehmood accused each other of violating the Constitution and causing chaos in the country.

PTI Senators Waleed Iqbal, Fawzia Arshad and Saifullah Abro were the most active among those leading the protest.

During the hard-hitting speech of Mr Mehmood, who is the son of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the assembly hall kept on being echoed with slogans both from the treasury benches and the opposition side.

Though Dr Waseem lashed out at the government for allegedly running away from the Constitution, running a campaign against judges and politically victimising the PTI, he delivered his speech in somewhat conciliatory tone. He did not surprisingly utter a single word about the alleged corruption of PPP or PML-N leaders. He only criticised the rulers for their present policies, particularly for bringing the country at the verge of economic collapse.

The PTI senator then stressed the need for political unity and called for sitting together to find out the way out of the crisis. He declared that his party did not want to create chaos and only desired for fair and free elections. In what can be described as a polite offer for engagement, Dr Waseem said they should sit together keeping aside their personal interests, adding that it was the job of the government to “extinguish fire”, instead of causing chaos.

He also made an indirect “request” to the speaker to allow the PTI MNAs to return to the house after the party’s decision to withdraw their en masse resignations.

On the other hand, Mr Mehmood in so many words hinted that the government was in no mood of engaging the PTI leadership.

“We will drive a final nail into your political coffin,” Mr Mehmood thundered amid loud jeering by the opposition PTI members. However, the PTI senators were not supported by the dissident MNAs, who had ditched the party at the time of vote of no-confidence against then prime minister Imran Khan in April last year.

Referring to Mr Khan’s oft-repeated claim that he had acquired power after 23-year struggle, Mr Mehmood declared that PTI would never be able to get power again even if it carried out a struggle for the next 46 years.

The communications minister also hit out at the judiciary and accused it of becoming a party in the political confrontation. He particularly criticised the superior judiciary over its recent decisions regarding the date for the elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as the previous rulings at the time of the election of PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz as the Punjab chief minister. He alleged that the judiciary announced its verdict in the case about the election date without providing the ruling parties an opportunity to present their viewpoint.

“If you will make political statements before issuing orders, then we will criticise you,” he said in an apparent reference to some remarks of the judges during the hearing of political cases.

The JUI-F MNA dubbed Mr Khan “an agent of Jewish lobby” and mentioned recent statements by US officials, including Zalmay Khalilzad, and some journalists and human rights activists in PTI’s favour to prove his point.

He said PTI could never come to power without the support of establishment. He claimed that former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa held a meeting with Imran Khan after his ouster from power at the behest of Mr Khalilzad.

Terming the PTI’s March 25 public meeting in Lahore a disaster, Mr Mehmood challenged Imran Khan to organise a rally without music or women. He passed some derogatory remarks about the PTI participants of the public meetings, prompting a strong protest by the opposition senators.

Mr Mehmood was still on his legs when the speaker abruptly adjourned the joint sitting till April 10 after failing to contain the protesting PTI members.

Earlier, Dr Waseem began his speech with the criticism on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for delaying polls in Punjab and KP despite the Supreme Court’s order, terming it a violation of the Constitution as well as contempt of court. He then protested over the alleged government crackdown on the PTI leaders and workers and police action at Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence in Lahore.

He also lamented the role of the caretaker Punjab government, accusing it of going beyond its mandate of holding the elections. He particularly mentioned the statement of Punjab caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi for using threatening tone against the PTI activists and asked him to apologise over it.

It was during Dr Waseem’s speech that the journalists staged a walkout from the press gallery against the alleged custodial torture by police on one of their colleagues and non-payment of salaries in some media organisations.

Taking cue from the journalists’ walkout, Dr Waseem started portraying a dismal picture of the state of media freedom in the country, alleging that journalists were being booked on terrorism charges and tortured merely for exposing the wrong policies of rulers.

Later, the speaker directed the interior ministry to take action against those responsible for violence against journalists during the appearance of PTI chief Imran Khan before a court in Islamabad and referred the issue of non-payment of salaries to the concerned house committee.

NA session

Earlier during the separate National Assembly session, the coalition government faced embarrassment when treasury members, including two federal ministers, belonging to erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) staged a token walkout from the house over non-release of promised development funds for the region.

The issue was raised by independent MNA Mohsin Dawar, who alleged that despite promises by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar funds for tribal people had not been released.

He said that out of the Rs55bn allocated amount, the government had so far released only Rs5bn. He said dollars were raining on the country when these areas were being destroyed in war against terrorism, and now when they required funds for rehabilitation, there was no money in the national kitty.

The protesting MNAs also criticised Finance Minister Ishaq Dar who, according to them, did not have time to even have a meeting with them.

State Minister for Finance Ayesha Ghaus Pasha, however, stated that the issue related to the Ministry of Planning which was responsible for carrying out development in the country.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2023

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