ISLAMABAD: The opening day of budget debate in the National Assembly saw a bitter war of words being waged, as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle accused each other of colluding with the military establishment and intelligence agencies to gain power.

Meanwhile in the Senate, opposition leaders decried the heavy taxes proposed in the upcoming budget, warning that they could lead to ‘a revolution’ against the government.

Thursday’s sitting of the lower house only saw token participation from the PPP amid its misgivings with the ruling PML-N, and only two lawmakers — Abdul Qadir Patel and Agha Rafiullah — were in the house to register their “token participation under protest”.

Opening debate on the budget, Opposition Leader Omar Ayub Khan castigated the government for presenting an “anti-people budget”.

Questioning the proposed increase in the defence budget, Mr Khan said they wanted a break-up of the allocations for each intelligence agency, adding that they feared that the money would be spent on purchasing “Vigo trucks” to “pick up” political opponents of the government.

“This is the government of the corrupts, by the corrupts and for the corrupts,” said Mr Khan while criticising the ruling coalition for amending accountability laws to get relief.

In his nearly three-hour-long speech, he termed the budget a “fraud, highway robbery and economic terrorism” with the people of Pakistan. He also used the term “economic hitmen” for both Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb and his predecessor, Ishaq Dar, adding that PM Shehbaz Sharif had recently clipped Mr Aurangzeb’s wings by removing him as head of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec).

The opposition leader also hit out at Khawaja Asif and recalled an earlier speech by the defence minister on the floor of the assembly, where he had opposed an increase in the defence budget and spoken against the army generals, even calling them “feudals”.

The opposition leader sought an in-camera briefing on the country’s “nuclear deterrence” and demanded that the budget of the ISI be presented before the house committee on cabinet secretariat and that of the MI before the defence committee for scrutiny.

In response, Mr Asif launched personal attacks on the opposition leader and recalled that how he used to praise military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf and even Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif when he was a part of the PML-N.

The National Assembly will meet again on Friday morning.

Senate meeting

In the upper house, it was PTI’s Barrister Ali Zafar who took the government to task, recounting how the American and French revolutions were sparked when unrepresentative governments imposed heavy taxes, while a similar move brought about the downfall of the British monarchy as well.

He said the finance minister claimed to have diagnosed the disease, blaming unnecessary government intervention in the economy for its slow growth and touting a market-based economy as the solution.

But he said he could not find any proposal to curtail government spending in the latest budget, adding that it does not show how the deficit of Rs 8500bn will be met.

JUI-F Senator Kamran Murtaza in his speech questioned the legal status of Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC). He said the council was meant to grab resources of smaller provinces.

Taking the floor, Faisal Vawda said that Pakistan had suffered a lot due to absence of consistency and continuation of policies. He opposed the imposition of additional taxes on hybrid and electric vehicles, adding that additional taxes on vehicles were unacceptable.

PTI’s Dr Humayun Mohmand said there was a lot of talk going on about filers and non-filers and claimed there were many non-filers who have bought apartments in Dubai and London.

The House was adjourned to meet again on Friday morning due to a lack of quorum, pointed out by the opposition during the speech of Senator Bilal Khan Mandokhail.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2024

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