• Speaker allows passage of over 100 amendments without formal presentation before house
• Balochistan MNA asks military to refrain from engineering elections in province
ISLAMABAD: On the opening day of its farewell session on Thursday, the National Assembly hastily carried out crucial legislative business without a quorum as Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf bulldozed the procedure by allowing a minister to completely change the drafts of two bills and getting them approved with a voice vote without their formal presentation before the house.
Besides legislation, the farewell speech of an independent member from Gwadar, Aslam Bhootani, was the highlight of an otherwise lacklustre session. Mr Bhootani passionately made an “appeal to the establishment” not to make any effort to engineer the upcoming elections in Balochistan.
“Taken as read” was the sentence repeatedly uttered by the speaker when Aviation Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique was given the floor several times to move massive amendments, including inserting more than 100 new clauses, to the two proposed laws regarding the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The bills are the Pakistan Airports Authority Bill 2022 and the Pakistan Civil Aviation Bill 2022.
When Mr Ashraf was seeking the approval of the two bills, fewer than two dozen members were present in the 342-member house, whose five-year constitutional term is ending on Aug 12.
Through the two bills, the role of the CAA is being bifurcated into two entities — one responsible for regulating civil aviation activities in the country and the other for providing civil aviation services and developing aviation infrastructure.
“The CAA shall be entrusted with regulatory functions, whereas the Pakistan Airports Authority shall be entrusted with commercial and operational aspects of airports,” reads the Statement of Objects and Reasons attached to the bills.
In an apparent reference to the ongoing protests by CAA employees and some objections raised by Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali of the Jamaat-i-Islami over the proposed bills, the aviation minister forcefully defended the government’s move to outsource the country’s three airports and categorically stated that no CAA employee would be rendered jobless.
He said India had already outsourced its eight airports, whereas Turkiye and other countries had also done so.
The lower house of the parliament also witnessed the introduction of eight government bills. Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb moved all the bills, which were then sent to the relevant committees for discussion.
These bills were the Archival Material (Preservation and Export Control) (Amendment) Bill 2023, the National Archives (Amendment) Bill 2023, the Anti-Dumping Duties (Amendment) Bill 2023, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill 2023, the Press Council of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2023, the National Institute of Health (Re-Organisation) (Amendment) Bill 2023, the Apostille (Amendment) Bill 2023, and the Gun and Country Club Bill 2023.
Soon after the shortened question hour, MNA Aslam Bhootani took the floor and said that in his farewell speech, he wanted to make an appeal to the military establishment not to interfere in the elections in Balochistan.
“I request the new establishment under Army Chief Gen Asim Munir that give the people of Balochistan the right to elect anyone they want, because the people hate a manufactured government,” Mr Bhootani said.
“There are talks that Balochistan will be given to a selected group on lease for five years,” he said, adding that everyone knew where the actual powers lay.
Mr Bhootani said Balochistan had already suffered a lot because of such engineering in the past and it could not afford it further. He said he had already talked about it directly with the army chief when he had come to visit the province.
“If it is necessary and in the national interest to hand over Balochistan to a selected group [of people] on a five-year lease, then it’s better to hand it over to the dacoits of Kacha and Rahimyar Khan,” he said.
When the speaker intercepted him and said that the MNA had himself stated that he had secured 70,000 votes in the elections, the MNA said that he could speak more openly as to how much he had to suffer to get these votes.
“I hope that my talk will reach through you to the GHQ and Aabpara,” he said, referring to the military headquarters in Rawalpindi and the head office of the Inter-Services Intelligence in Islamabad’s Aabpara neighbourhood.
Mr Bhootani also stressed the need for engaging the estranged Baloch leaders, stating that efforts should be made to resolve the issues through dialogue. He said there was a lack of trust between the people of Balochistan and “Rawalpindi”.
The speaker later adjourned the sitting until Friday morning (today).
Earlier, the House Business Advisory Committee, headed by the speaker, decided to continue the current session until the assembly’s term expires next month.
Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2023