Monday July 22, 2024

Senate polarised over new operation

House proposed as many as 128 recommendations to the National Assembly on the Finance Bill 2024-25

By Mumtaz Alvi
June 25, 2024
Senate deputy chairman Syedaal Khan Nasar chairs the session on June 24, 2024. — Facebook/@Pakistansenate
Senate deputy chairman Syedaal Khan Nasar chairs the session on June 24, 2024. — Facebook/@Pakistansenate

ISLAMABAD: The government and the opposition were sharply divided in the Senate Monday on the proposed launch of a new military operation.While the treasury benches strongly advocated the planned ‘Azm-e-Istehkam operation’, being crucial for peace and stability and economic well-being, the opposition called for strict adherence to the constitution and ensuring the rule of law instead of going for new dramas.

At the very outset, as the chair asked the Chairman of the House Standing Committee on Finance to present the recommendations on the proposed budget, Leader of the Opposition Syed Shibli Faraz rose to seek the floor and raised alarm over the planned operation and pointed out that the word ‘Istehkam’ (stability) has political connotations and operation had military, emphasizing that during the last two months, there has been increase in martyrdom of the military personnel. “Stability would remain a pipe dream without supremacy of the constitution, rule of law and adherence to recognition of the true mandate of the electorate,” he contended.

He lamented that the PTI was denied its election symbol and reserved seats in the assemblies and slammed the Election Commission’s role. He regretted that fabricated cases had been registered against PTI leaders and workers to put them behind bars. “Those who came into power through Form 47 failed to present a balanced budget which even their allies refuse to own. The price hike would worsen the law and order situation, as everything is linked to the economy, he emphasised. “The key to the country’s prosperity, security, progress and stability is with prisoner No. 804 (Imran Khan),” he claimed.

Replying to his speech, Parliamentary Leader of the Pakistan People’s Party Senator Sherry Rehman, expressed concerns over PTI’s politics of protests and questioned the motive behind their opposition to ‘Azm-e-Istehkam,’ aimed at curbing terrorism and restoring stability in the country. “Stability in the country will only come when the law and order situation is under control. They seem to want Pakistan’s economy and stability to falter, which we will not allow. PTI’s behaviour is not that of a political party but of a mob,” she asserted.

Regretting that PTI is protesting against the anti-terrorism operation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sherry remarked, “I fail to understand their opposition to an operation aimed at restoring peace and order. The PTI Chief Minister was present in the Apex Committee, what was his stance there.” She insisted that with the rise of terrorism in the country, operations against it are inevitable, with over 70,000 of our people martyred. Does PTI want terrorism to rise again in the country?

Referring to PTI leadership, she said these are the same individuals who advocated for opening offices of the TTP, claiming the Taliban are our friends. “Taliban Khan (Imran Khan) repeatedly asserted that TTP and the Taliban are our friends,” she said. Sherry said “Yesterday, we presented a resolution in the National Assembly against the incident of extremism in Swat. PTI also did not sign this resolution. They have not learned any lessons. PTI appears to want the country to be held hostage by the Taliban…,” she remarked. Thereafter, she tabled a resolution against recent mob lynching incidents in Swat and Sargodha, which was passed by a majority vote.

The resolution read, “The House unequivocally condemns the recent mob lynchings in Swat and Sargodha of persons accused of offences pertaining to religion. The right to life is the most fundamental right as guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan and must remain inviolable. The House, therefore, urges the federal and provincial governments to ensure the safety and security of all persons living in Pakistan, including religious minorities and vulnerable communities”. “The House also demands the provincial governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab to take all necessary measures to ensure that the persons involved in these heinous crimes are identified, investigated, and prosecuted without delay. The House expects the courts dealing with these cases to ensure justice as per the timelines provided in the law,” it said.

Meanwhile, speaking on a point of public importance, Awami National Party parliamentary leader Aimal Wali Khan rejected the proposed military operation outright and questioned why the National Action Plan, supported by all the political parties and institutions, was not being implemented. “We reject this new operation. It does not mean we support terrorists but we are against some terrorists roaming about in ‘protocol’ while the nation suffers and bleeds,” he maintained. The ANP legislator asked whether or not punishments would be awarded to those, who had set free 102 convicted terrorists, including ‘the butcher of Swat’ Muslim Khan and mastermind of APS massacre. Aimal Wali wanted a full-fledged real operation to flush out terrorists from the country without discriminating between who was a good and who was a bad terrorist.

Earlier, Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb made a short winding-up speech in the House and afterwards, the recommendations made by the House standing committee were adopted. He assured the House that the recommendations on revenue and others would be thoroughly reviewed by his ministry. Most of the Senate proposals would be taken forward, he added.

Earlier, the House proposed as many as 128 recommendations to the National Assembly on the Finance Bill 2024-25, including the reduction of tax on essential goods and food items. The House Committee on Finance’s chairman Senator Saleem Mandviwalla presented the recommendations in the Senate. Over 45 members took part in the budget discussion, the chair informed the House, which recommended increasing direct taxes by broadening the tax net and inclusion of big industries like sugar, cement, tobacco, fertilizers, power sector entities as well as big business chains.

The Senate recommended enhancing the minimum wage to Rs45,000 to provide relief to the labourers and poor workers. The House rejected a tax on low cadre government employees, baby milk, books and pencils of school children, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, newspapers and agricultural produce.

It also proposed a special allowance for disabled people and opposed additional taxes on mobile phones and withdrawal of sales tax on poultry feed. It also proposed giving relief to motorcyclists through fuel price mitigation. It was recommended that a uniform sales tax should be imposed on parts related to the solar industry whether imported or locally produced.

The Senate also called for measures for ease of doing business, one window operation and other perks to encourage overseas Pakistan to invest in Pakistan. It recommended a reduced tax rate of 16 percent on local suppliers to erstwhile tribal areas. It also proposed new development programmes and schemes as well as youth development programmes and scholarships for Balochistan. The House will now meet again on Tuesday afternoon.