In noisy NA session, Khawaja Asif assails opposition for opposing Operation Azm-i-Istehkam

Published June 23, 2024
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif speaks in the National Assembly on Sunday. — NA/X
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif speaks in the National Assembly on Sunday. — NA/X

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Sunday criticised the opposition for not supporting the newly announced counterterrorism operation called Azm-i-Istehkam as the latter demanded that Parliament be taken into confidence before any offensive against militancy was launched.

The government on Saturday announced the operation, vowing to unleash the full force of the country’s military, diplomatic, legislative, and socio-economic arsenal to decisively defeat terrorism and extremism.

The announcement came after a meeting of the Central Apex Committee of National Action Plan, which was chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and attended by key federal ministers, provincial chief ministers, services chiefs and top bureaucrats.

“The prime minister approved a reinvigorated and re-energised nati­o­nal counterterrorism campaign thro­ugh the launching of Operation Azm-i-Istehkam, with the consensus of all stakeholders including the provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, symbolising the national resolve to eradicate extremism and terrorism from the country,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement issued after the meeting.

Azm-i-Istehkam is the latest in a series of counterterrorism operations launched by the Pakistan Army since the mid-2000s. More recent operations include Zarb-i-Azb, launched in 2014 by Gen Raheel Sharif to combat militants in North Waziristan, and Raddul Fasaad, initiated in 2017 under Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to eliminate what was then described as “residual terrorist threats” in the country.

While these operations achieved tactical successes, including the reduction of terrorist incidents and the elimination of high-value targets, they did not completely eradicate militancy from the country.

The decision also came right after a high-ranking Chinese official on Friday singled out security as the foremost challenge threatening the future of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

“Security threats are the main hazards to CPEC cooperation. As people often say, confidence is more precious than gold. In the case of Pakistan, the primary factor shaking the confidence of Chinese investors is the security situation,” Liu Jianchao had emphasised.

 PTI leaders speak to the media in Islamabad on June 23. — DawnNewsTV
PTI leaders speak to the media in Islamabad on June 23. — DawnNewsTV

Speaking to the media outside Parliament House in Islamabad today, PTI MNA Gohar Khan said, “It is our demand […] that if there is any operation — whether intelligence-based or full-fledged or in certain districts or villages or tehsils — it is necessary to take this Parliament into confidence.”

He made the remarks while the National Assembly was in session, saying that the opposition wanted to speak on a point of order that the “military leadership, as has been done in the past, give an in-camera briefing and detail the situation”.

However, he alleged, that lawmakers from his party were denied the chance to speak and therefore staged a walkout in protest.

He asserted that no matter how empowered a committee was, it could not supersede Parliament and that there were “rules” according to which the apex committee should approve the plans for ‘Operation Azm-i-Istehkam’.

Standing beside him, former NA speaker Asad Qaiser demanded the same: “I simply demand that if any decision has been taken [to launch an operation], then it be brought before Parliament and Parliament be taken into confidence.”

Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Omar Ayub said they had wanted to speak during today’s NA session but were not allowed to.

Demanding “due share and due right”, Ayub alleged that NA Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq’s “attitude” towards the opposition was “not right”.

Later during the NA session, as Deputy Speaker Ghulam Mustafa Shah gave the floor to Asif to speak, opposition lawmakers started raising slogans, including “Fata operation unacceptable” and “KP operation unacceptable”.

As Shah assured the opposition that they would be allowed to speak, Asif highlighted he wanted to bring attention to the increase in violence against minorities in Pakistan.

The ruckus, however, continued, preventing Asif from continuing his speech. The defence minister stood silent for one to two minutes as PTI-Sunni Ittehad Council MNAs chanted “military operation unacceptable”.

“I will not be blackmailed. Do not let the House be blackmailed,” Asif told the deputy speaker, who replied, “The chair will not be blackmailed either.”

The NA’s YouTube livestream was also muted at certain parts.

As Shah repeatedly urged Asif to speak, the minister quipped, “What is the point of speaking when the chair cannot restore order in the House?”

Referring to yesterday’s objectionable remarks by PTI’s Sanaullah Mastikhel, the defence minister said there were “new abuses hurled today”.

As the opposition continued to chant “we want peace”, Asif highlighted that he wanted to speak regarding minorities which was not a “controversial issue that any group or political party would object to”.

Referring to violent incidents involving minorities in Swat, Sargodha and Faisalabad, the minister assailed the PTI for “muffling voices when the matter was being raised in Pakistan’s largest House”.

Asif then responded to the PTI’s concerns regarding Operation Azm-i-Istehkam, recalling that the PTI participated in discussions in 2014 at the time of Operation Zarb-i-Azb. He asserted that the matter was being referred to the federal cabinet and would also be kept before the NA.

“We do not want to take any step that can be targeted under the guise of political interests. If they have any objections, then God-willing, when that issue will be put before this House, they can also speak on it,” he said.

Referring to the opposition, the defence minister said they were “showing their reality” and wanted to “do politics of violence”.

Asif highlighted that the chief minister of KP, PTI’s Ali Amin Gandapur, was present during yesterday’s apex committee meeting where the new operation was approved.

“They (opposition) are standing with the terrorists by protesting here today. They are protesting against the martyrs of the Pakistan Army and the army that is still making sacrifices to [counter] terrorism. They have not backed off from their May 9 stance even today,” the minister said.

He went on to lambast the PTI for changing their stances in accordance with their interests, dishonouring the NA by hurling abuses and “stealing electricity”. As Asif concluded his speech, the session was adjourned for an hour.

When the House met again, Gohar again asserted that any military operation carried out needed to be within constitutional parameters.

PTI’s Qaiser meets with JUI-F’s Fazl

Earlier in the day, Qaiser met Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam — Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. PTI central deputy information secretary Akhunzada Husain was also present during the meeting.

In a post on X, Qaiser said, “Our belief is that a military operation is not the solution to the issue. All political parties must play their role to establish peace in the province.”

According to a statement issued by the PTI, both leaders discussed the country’s political situation and expressed their concern at the law and order situation countrywide, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

It added that the two agreed that their parties would play the role of a “strong opposition” in the NA.

The PTI statement also quoted both parties as rejecting the proposed federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year as an “IMF budget” and “anti-people”.

They also agreed to fulfil their role in maintaining brotherly ties with Afghanistan, expressing their wish for “good and exemplary relations” between the neighbours.

The statement quoted them as demanding the establishment of an economic corridor at the Afghanistan crossing point, emphasising that trade activity would bring economic stability and employment opportunities to the region.

During the meeting, the PTI and the JUI-F also decided to form a combined political committee to sort out reservations and decide the future action plan.

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