Military action sans opposition buy-in riles up lawmakers

Published June 24, 2024
OPPOSITION leaders Omar Ayub, Gohar Ali Khan and Asad Qaiser exchange views with Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar during a break in the National Assembly proceedings, on Sunday.—Facebook / NAofPakistan
OPPOSITION leaders Omar Ayub, Gohar Ali Khan and Asad Qaiser exchange views with Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar during a break in the National Assembly proceedings, on Sunday.—Facebook / NAofPakistan

• PTI’s Gohar demands parliament be taken into confidence; ex-Fata lawmaker vows to resist move
• Govt promises in-camera session to share details about planned operation
• MNAs continue to assail taxes proposed in budget, highlight burden on salaried class

ISLAMABAD: A day after the government announced a fresh military operation to eradicate militancy and extremism, the opposition lawmakers, mostly belonging to Khyber Pakhtun­khwa where such operations have been conducted in the past, termed the planned operation a “recipe for disaster” and accused the government of repeating past mistakes and superseding parliament.

Chaos marred the budget session of the National Assembly on Sunday, with the opposition members belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) vehemently protesting the government’s announcement of launching the ‘Azm-i-Istehkam’ operation. The opposition’s protest prompted the government to promise an in-camera session to brief lawmakers on the details of the operation.

Earlier, the opposition members first staged a walkout from the assembly when Speaker Ayaz Sadiq refused to give the floor to Opposition Leader Omar Ayub Khan — who wanted to raise the issue of the military operation on a point of order — and started allowing other members to take part in the ongoing debate on the federal budget.

Later, the opposition members returned to the house after addressing a news conference outside the Parliament House, gathered in front of the speaker’s dais and started raising full-throated slogans, rejecting the government’s plan to launch the operation.

The opposition members raised slogans like “Fata operation unacceptable”, “Pakhtuns’ bloodshed unacceptable” and “we want peace”, as Deputy Speaker Ghulam Mustafa Shah gave floor to Defence Minister Khawaja Asif to make a policy statement regarding the rise in the incidents of blasphemy lynchings in the country.

The minister could not speak due to the noisy protest and after remaining silent for a few minutes, asked the chair not to be “blackmailed” by the opposition.

“I will not be blackmailed. Do not let the house be blackmailed,” said Kh Asif as the deputy speaker replied, “The chair will not be blackmailed either.” Mr Shah repeatedly asked the minister to speak, but he quipped, “What is the point of speaking when the chair cannot restore order in the house?” Later, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar advised his colleague to use headphones.

Responding to the opposition’s protest, the defence minister said KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur was present at the apex committee meeting where the plan for the new operation was approved.

Mr Asif said the government was reviving the apex committee and the issue would be brought to the cabinet and the National Assembly. He condemned the opposition’s behaviour, accusing them of using abusive and violent politics. He pointed out that while the opposition claims to stand with the military, their actions suggest otherwise. “Mere words of support for the army are not enough; actions matter.”

“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,” alleged the minister, amidst sloganeering by the opposition members.

Later, taking part in the budget debate, Information Minister Attaullah Tarar also accused PTI members of ‘supporting’ the Taliban by holding protests against the military operation, declaring that the operation would take place in any case.

‘Parliament superseded’

When given the floor, PTI Chairman Barrister Gohar Ali Khan said they only wanted to seek an explanation from the government over its decision to launch the military operation without taking parliament into confidence but they were not given the floor.

“It is our demand if there is any operation — whether intelligence-based or full-fledged or in any province — it is necessary to take this parliament into confidence,” said the PTI chairman, adding no matter how empowered a committee was, it could not supersede parliament.

Law Minister Tarar clarified that they had not formed any new apex committee and it was the same committee with ex-officio members that had been constituted during the PTI’s government time.

Mr Tarar assured the opposition that the issue would be discussed in the federal cabinet as well as parliament. He said the government would soon convene an in-camera meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, saying the government would not hide anything.

“This is a promise that the prime minister will not go out of the meeting. The prime minister and the whole cabinet will sit there,” he said, recalling that former prime minister Imran Khan had refused to sit with the opposition in the previous meeting which “had been called to bring back the terrorists to the country”.

Speaking on a point of order, SIC member from formerly tribal areas Iqbal Muhammad Khan “rejected” the planned military operation and termed it “an operation for the sake of mineral resources and [US] dollars.” He said the previous operations launched in 2002 were still in progress and they could see the results.

The MNA asked the tribal people “not to migrate, not to facilitate operation and stand firm against it.”

“We will not allow any operation. We have been devastated. We have been homeless. Our children do not have education facilities. People are still in jails,” he said while stressing the need for a parliamentary debate on the “role of the establishment.”

The maiden speech of Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari on the budget was the other highlight of the day’s proceedings. In her brief speech, she stated that the present budget was not as per the expectations of the masses. A majority of the lawmakers from both sides of the aisle continued to criticise the taxation measures announced by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb in his budget speech on June 12.

The members asked the government to review tax on the salaried class and provide more incentives to farmers.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2024

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