NA sees a turbulent day: PTI opposes ‘Azm-e-Istehkam’ operation

Muhammad Anis
Monday, Jun 24, 2024

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly witnessed a turbulent day on Sunday, as the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) registered a strong protest against the approval of Azm-e-Istehkam operation bypassing parliament.

Pacifying the opposition, Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said the issue would be taken up by the federal cabinet and debated in the House.

“We will also bring this issue in the cabinet and on the floor of National Assembly where the opposition can express objections; however, they are exposing their real face while speaking in an abusive language,” Asif said, adding the government would not take any such step that could damage the purpose of decision.

JUIF parliamentarians also joined the PTI-backed members of Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) who raised slogans against the Azm-e-Istehkam operation approved by the prime minister in the Apex Committee meeting held on Saturday.

“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Operation Namanzoor. We want peace,” they shouted in chorus. The opposition continued their protest and sloganeering while surrounding the speaker’s dais, making it difficult for the defence minister to speak.

Earlier, the SIC members staged a walkout after their chief whip Aamir Dogar was not allowed to speak on a point of order.

Khawaja Asif told the House that the KP chief minister was also present in the Apex Committee meeting on Saturday which discussed the measures the government was going to take against terrorism. “But today, the opposition is standing with terrorists, protesting against the armed forces, martyrs and Pakistani nation which sacrificed for the sake of peace,” he said, adding the PTI leaders were still defending their May 9 actions.

He said the opposition leaders were making fake claims of supporting the armed forces.

Continuing his salvo, Asif said, “They are neither with the nation nor parliament but just want to save their politics.”

Addressing the opposition’s concerns, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur was also present in the apex committee meeting but he did not object to the decision concerning the operation. “The cabinet would decide how the operation would be launched and parliament would also debate it,” he said, adding that everything would be open and no hidden measure would be taken.

Asif said minorities were being killed on a daily basis and they had become unsafe in the name of religion. “I want to speak on a sensitive issue, which is linked with the country’s prestige but the opposition is protesting in the House,” he said.

He said neither the religious minorities nor smaller Muslim sects were safe in the country. “Both Muslims and religious minorities have equal rights to live in the country,” he emphasized.

He said the Constitution of Pakistan ensured the protection of minorities but sometimes they were killed in Swat and sometimes in Sialkot, which was a matter of shame for the nation. “Islam does not allow the killing of innocent religious minorities in the name of religion,” he said, adding that no evidences were found against those who had been killed.

A message should go to the nation, including the minorities, that the National Assembly stood with them.

The defence minister said the PTI’s entire leadership was compromised. These were not his words but of Shehryar Afridi who had named Asad Qaiser, Omar Ayub, Gohar Ali Khan and others.

Responding to Khawaja Asif’s comments, Afridi invoked Allah Almighty’s curse upon liars adding that the defence minister was not speaking the truth. He said Asif was more than 70 years old but he was still resorting to such statements.

“Here is my chairman and opposition leader,” said Afridi pointing towards Barrister Gohar and Omar Ayub. He said the government was “no match” for the PTI and their allegations would not affect the unity in his party’s ranks.

Later, speaking in the House, Barrister Gohar Ali Khan said the government had decided to launch an operation in the country without taking parliament into confidence. He said the military leadership gave in-camera briefing to parliament in the past adding that no committee was more supreme than parliament.

He said despite reservations that strangers were sitting in the House, parliament should be taken into confidence. “We demand an in-camera briefing to parliament and take parliamentarians into confidence on the operation,” he said. He said they had walked out of the House against the speaker’s behaviour towards the opposition, as he had denied floor to the opposition leaders.

National Assembly ex-speaker Asad Qaiser in categorical words said they would never support any operation as, according to him, all operations in the past turned out to be unsuccessful.

Taking part in the budget debate, JUIF parliamentarian Shahida Akhtar said the budget was fragile carrying many risk factors. She said risks would stay, as mini budgets would also be announced to implement terms and conditions of IMF programme.

Shahida Akhtar Ali called for revising the agreements with IPPs questioning as to why they were being given incentives and how long this practice would continue. She observed that IPPs could generate 43,000 megawatts of electricity whereas the country’s transmission system had the capacity for 25,000 megawatts.

She also regretted meager budget allocations for health sector (1.2 percent) and education sector (3 percent). The JUI-F leader said the raise given to the salaried class in comparison with the increase in taxes was a big joke with them. She also demanded that the government chalk out a mechanism to ensure implementation of Rs37,000 as the minimum monthly wage.

Shazia Marri of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said that her party previously participated in the budget session as a token due to its reservations, particularly about the Public Sector Development Programme. “The finance minister in his budget speech said the budget was prepared under the guidance of political leadership. But I want to correct the finance minister that there was no guidance from Bilawal Bhutto Zardari,” she said.

The speech of Ali Zahid of PMLN revolved round praising the vision of Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Shehbaz and their efforts to bring the country out of the economic crisis.

MQM parliamentarian Aminul Haq strongly opposed the imposition of 10 percent GST on news print and demanded its withdrawal. He said such taxation would burden the print media rendering hundreds of workers jobless. There were reports that Peca Ordinance, 2016 would be amended and he called for taking CPNE, APNS, Pakistan Broadcasters Association and others into confidence before making changes to the ordinance. He said it was a positive step to increase allocations for the IT sector from Rs9 billion to Rs29 billion for the upcoming fiscal year. He expressed the hope that the government would fulfill its commitments made with the MQM and his party would stand by the government in difficult times.

Minister for Maritime Affairs Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh said the government had presented a balanced budget despite tough economic conditions. He said the inflation rate had also reduced from 25 percent to 12 percent.

Meanwhile, the House adopted a resolution, strongly condemning the tragic incidents of mob-lynching in different parts of the country.

The resolution — moved by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar — said the House believed that the right to life was the most cherished one as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan. A few voices of ‘No’ were heard from the opposition benches as the resolution was put to vote.

Speaking on a point of order later, Barrister Gohar Ali Khan said the resolution was specific to an incident. He said the PTI leadership was being lynched every day in Punjab but no voice was raised for them whereas a resolution for a specific incident was being adopted. The law minister said the opposition was using the issue for their political motives.

The resolution said every person was to be dealt with in accordance with the law and not otherwise. “This House takes a serious notice of the recent mob-lynching of our citizens accused of offences in Swat and Sargodha.” The resolution notes with grave concern that such incidents have recently increased in different parts of the country, which cannot be tolerated in any civilized society.

The House urged the federal and provincial governments to ensure the safety and security of all citizens, including religious minorities and other vulnerable segments of society.

The House also demanded that the provincial governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab should immediately take all necessary measures to ensure that persons involved in these incidents were identified, investigated and prosecuted under the relevant laws.

The resolution expressed optimism that the courts will ensure speedy justice in these cases.

Earlier, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif expressed deep concern over the rising incidents of violence against the minorities and said the country was facing embarrassment at the international level due to such cases. “Pakistan is not a country of a single person but every Pakistani who lives here is an equal citizen. All Hindus, Christians and Sikhs are equal citizens,” he added.

The minister called for sending a clear message from the House that parliament was committed to protecting the rights of minority communities in the country.

Giving a policy statement in the House, he said the National Assembly needed to adopt a unanimous stance against the misuse of religion. The minister said the message should be clear that the people were united to safeguard the rights of minorities, including Christians, Sikhs and Parsis. “Our Constitution does not allow violence and the killing of innocents in the name of religion. People are exploiting religious sentiments for personal disputes,” Asif said.

Referring to the resolution, the minister said such a move was essential to improve the country’s international reputation.