Opp senators put govt on the mat over Labbaik deal


–PPP’s Sherry Rehman says govt was ‘all talk and no action’ in face of threats being hurled by leaders of hardline religious outfit

–Govt withdraws proposed amendments to Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act since ‘bill had been authored on orders of deposed IHC judge Shaukat Siddiqui


ISLAMABAD: Senators belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Tuesday criticised the government for “surrendering” to religious activists protesting against the Supreme Court’s acquittal of Aasia Bibi in the blasphemy case against her.

Before the debate formally began in the Upper House, Minister of Information Technology Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui filed a motion to withdraw proposed amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act on behalf of the government, which was approved by the House. The minister argued that the bill had been authored on the directives of deposed Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui and it was therefore proper that the government re-examine it.

Right after, the opposition pushed for a debate on the nationwide protests launched by the hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).

Taking the floor of the House, PPP’s parliamentary leader Sherry Rehman said we do not want the state and constitution to be sullied like this.

“The entire nation was at a standstill for three days. If we start to examine [what happened], they [the government] will say ‘This was also done before; the state entered a similar agreement last year as well,” she continued. “[But] what happened this time is a grave tragedy. We are not here to taunt and challenge the government — enough of that was done on the streets for [those] three days.

“[But] Our army chief was called out by name. The judiciary, the state and the army were dragged [into the mess]: what kind of message is being sent with these actions?” she asked.

“The government was all talk and no action. This was the first time we’ve heard the state challenged like this. How can this challenge be ignored?”

“We will not politic on this: the PPP has always toed the patriotic line in times like these. [However,] we will demand that the state provide protection to everyone.

“The state ought to protect the judges. Whether they give right decisions or wrong ones, the state should be behind them. Those who are openly rebelling against the law and constitution should be dealt with. This is a trying time for Pakistan: the government should not try to bypass parliament,” she said, also seeking answers from the government over loans secured from foreign governments and foreign policy.

“The parliament was not taken into confidence on [foreign] loans,” she said. “We have also promised to mediate the Yemen-Saudi Arabia dispute: on what terms will this mediation be done? We should tackle our own wars first,” she said.

After Sherry, PPP’s Senator Raza Rabbani took the floor, regretting that the country was shut down for three days and constitutional institutions were attacked.

He said the Senate ought to address a matter of this nature but his demand was ignored, prompting him to register a protest.

“If parliament itself cannot address a challenge to the [supremacy of the] Constitution, who will?” he asked. “It is incumbent upon us to defend the Constitution.”

Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) criticised the Supreme Court for a judgement that he described as “the murder of justice”.

“[Tell us], did America or the west interfere [in the judicial process]? What took the Supreme Court so long to decide the case,” he said.

“The chief justice claims to love the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and then lets the person who insulted him go,” he said.

His remarks were swiftly expunged by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani.

“There can be no debate over the conduct of judges,” he said. “All personal remarks against judges and their judgements should be expunged from the day’s proceedings,” he ruled.

Senator Tahir Bizenjo said that action should be taken against those who challenged the writ of the state. He said that curbing extremism is vital to take the country forward on the path of peace and stability.

Muhammad Sabir Shah said that the champions of human rights should take notice of the blasphemous material being published in Europe. He suggested that blasphemy should be criminalised at an international level.

Regretting the line taken by the opposition, Minister for Communication Murad Saeed said: “I had come here expecting some good suggestions to come out of this debate.”

“The constitution accords the right to peaceful protest to every citizen,” he noted. “Every party had said we do not want a repeat of Lal Masjid or the Model Town tragedy,” he reminded the opposition parties, addressing criticism of the government not having done enough to address the protests.

Responding to the points of the opposition on the current economic situation, the minister said that the previous governments are responsible for the current mess. He said that the previous governments destroyed all institutions including Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Pakistan Railways and Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA).

“Today, the circular debt has soared to twelve hundred billion rupees,” he said while adding that corrupt elements will be behind bars soon.

On the Saudi economic package, the minister said that Saudi Arabia has always supported Pakistan in difficult times. He said that relations with Saudi Arabia and China have further improved under the current democratic set up.

“The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project will be made a successful model and its timely completion will be ensured by the government,” he stated.

Senator Asad Ali Junejo criticised the government’s economic policy, terming it responsible for the recent price hikes. He said that the government should take the opposition parties on board in matters pertaining to economy and foreign policy.

Moreover, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution expressing grief and sorrow over the assassination of the prominent religious scholar and former Senator, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) Chief Maulana Samiul Haq. The house offered fateha for his departed soul and also for the security officers martyred in recent acts of terrorism.