Barbs fly in Senate over Shahbaz’s arrest

ISLAMABAD: Barbs flew in the Senate on Monday with the opposition members accusing the government of witch-hunt in the name of accountability and the treasury members claiming that the slogan of ‘political victimisation’ was being used as a shield against a transparent process of accountability.

Members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) termed the arrest of PML-N president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif contempt of parliament and a step directed at attempts to rig Oct 14 by-elections and criticised Prime Minister Imran Khan for what they called his threatening tone at a press conference he addressed in Lahore on Sunday.

Rumpus ruled the house when Attaur Rehman of the JUI-F in his speech accused Imran Khan of behaving like a vagabond and terrorist. After the chair expunged the words and asked him not to use such language, he said the prime minister looked more like an opposition leader.

On strong objection raised from the treasury benches, Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani asked Mr Rehman to apologise for the inappropriate words used by him, but he refused, saying the words had already been expunged.

Opposition stages walkout after Fawad Chaudhry was allowed to take part in debate

When the chairman asked him not to vitiate the atmosphere of the house, Mr Rehman said the government was cankering environment of the entire country by its irresponsible behavior. He said the threats would not work as the opposition won’t care about them.

“Enough is enough,” said Leader of the House in the Senate Syed Shibli Faraz, while objecting to Mr Rehman’s remarks. He said other opposition members also spoke over the issue, but they did not cross the limits of decency.

Even after the time was over and his mike was switched off, Attaur Rehman kept on criticising the government amidst demands from the treasury benches for an apology. He kept on insisting that the government withdraw its threats given to the opposition.

Retired Gen Abdul Qayyum of the PML-N observed that a corruption-free Pakistan could be given to the posterity only if it was kept in mind that financial corruption is only one facet of this cancer. “Other dimensions of this disease which are equally if not more lethal are judicial, moral and intellectual corruption and misuse of political authority for political gains,” he observed.

He said the opposition leader’s arrest was a glaring example of political victimisation, witch-hunt and selective justice for political ends, which would erode public confidence in the viability of democratic system. He demanded immediate release of the PML-N president.

Saadia Abbasi of the PML-N said the prime minister at his press conference said he was shocked to see the evidence of corruption presented to him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Intelligence Bureau. “Is it for NAB to share evidence with the chief executive?” she asked and said that collusion was evident from it.

“Did he not receive intelligence reports over Babar Awan’s involvement in the Nandipur power project corruption scam and that of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in a murder case?” she asked.

She also criticised Imran Khan for saying that those protesting against Shahbaz Sharif’s arrest would soon land in jail. She warned that the entire country would be paralysed if a call for protest was given by her party.

Talha Mahmood of the JUI-F accused the prime minister of behaving like Hitler. He said Imran Khan hinted that the IB and FIA — the two institutions under him — might be fully used (against the opposition).

Ayesha Raza Farooq of the PML-N said Shahbaz Sharif had been cheated into arrest without fulfilling the basic rules of justice. “It smacks of political vendetta and is nothing but sham accountability,” she said and asked as to what evidence had surfaced from investigations which required his arrest.

The opposition protested when Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry tried to take part in the discussion, saying only a member of the house could speak and a minister could just wind up the debate. After the chair allowed the minister to speak, the opposition staged a walkout.

In opposition’s absence, the information minister said he wondered why the opposition was so worried over the prime minister’s remarks that thieves and dacoits would not be spared. “You have looted the nation’s wealth and we will bring it back,” he remarked.

Azam Moosakhel of the PkMAP pointed out the lack of quorum after the opposition’s walkout. Treasury members tried to bring the opposition back to the house, but to no avail.

The house was adjourned to meet again at 3pm on Wednesday.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2018

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