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February 23, 2018

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Political engineering underway: Senate debate expresses fears of technocrat government

ISLAMABAD: Legislators in the Senate on Thursday expressed fear that political instability might increase resulting into a government by technocrats in the wake of the Supreme Court (SC) verdict with the Senate elections round the corner. Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani called for a dialogue among the institutions for resolution of issues.

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PPP’s Senator Farhatullah Babar, speaking on a point of public importance, made it clear that although Nawaz Sharif was largely responsible for the situation, he could not applaud the SC verdict as a triumph for anyone and as member of parliament he could not rejoice over it.

Senator Babar contended, "The Wednesday verdict of the apex court has enlarged the scope of articles 62 & 63 on the one hand and weakened the parliament by striking down a law passed by it on the other". He continued that it was something which he never applauds, notwithstanding the huge responsibility of Nawaz Sharif in arriving at this pass and the members of parliament themselves challenging the law passed by them.

The veteran legislator noted that for quite some time a whispering campaign was going on suggesting that efforts were afoot to get the elections postponed and pave way for a government of technocrats for three to four years to eventually re-write the political landscape of the country. The apex court verdict, he cautioned, had the potential to increase political instability and asked the parliament to play its role in averting instability. While abiding by the court verdict everyone now must act in a manner to avert instability, he said.

Responding to his remarks, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani said that he had also been repeatedly warning against undermining the parliament. He expressed the hope that the parliament would overcomethe challenge. PML-N Senator Ghous Baksh Niazi rose to say that reports of a possible technocratic setup had been doing rounds for some months, but they did not pay any heed to them. “We heard of a technocrat setup for an unlimited period of time, and you, Mr Chairman, have repeatedly called for political instability, and with apex court verdict, we’ve been sure something unconstitutional is going to happen,” he warned.

He said that parliament should play its due role to defeat such elements bent upon to wrap up the teething democracy, adding any attempt to derail the constitutional setup will be resisted. He cautioned that if the laws enacted by the parliament were misused, the parliament would be left with no option but to limit the powers which had been given to different state institutions.

Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) said that with the apex court verdict, state institutions were in confrontation mode with each other, which was not good for the democratic setup. He also criticised Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar for calling lawyers as his foot soldiers, saying the lawyers were the soldiers of judiciary.

Senator Ali proposed to create a constitutional court to hear political cases, restricting the incumbent judiciary to hear routine cases, as the current judges had no idea how to handle cases of political nature.

“What the chief justice is doing is confrontation…I’m against Nawaz Sharif. He must be hanged if he is guilty but the courts have no right to wipe him out,” said the MQM senator. To this, Rabbani maintained that confrontation was no solution to the problem, and said that institutional dialogue was needed to resolve the issues confronting the country.

PkMAP Senator Usman Khan Kakar from Balochistan questioned how a court could determine the appointment of a political party’s head and alleged all this was being done to delay the Senate polls. “It all started from Balochistan where a military brigadier changed the government, and now money is being offered for Senate seats, which reflects what is going on. The political parties must stop these interventions in matters of parliament,” he noted.

Minister of State for Finance Rana Muhammad Afzal accepted that Afghanistan had informed the government about Pakistani prisoners at Bagram jail, but it was reluctant to give access to them due to which no progress has been made for their reparation.

Rabbani grilled the state minister for the lame excuse for the delay in repatriating the prisoners, and said: “So what if no one from the family has approached you…isn’t this the responsibility of state to find about its citizens.”

Senator Muhammad Ali Saif claimed that Afghan government wanted assurance from Pakistan as it was afraid that the prisoners might join the militant groups if released. The chair directed the Foreign Office to inform the house about the details and the actions taken by the government for their repatriations.

During the question hour, Minister for Parliament Affairs Sh Aftab Ahmed expressed his ignorance with regards to privatisation of PIA and urged Senator Usman Kakar that the minister concerned would be in a better position to respond to his concerns.

Minister Incharge of Cabinet Division revealed that as many as 18 senior PIA officers had been made OSDs for disciplinary reasons and poor performance. To this, Senator Sirajul Haq said that to make such officers sit back at home and enjoy pays and perks and privileges was like honouring them.

Senator Kalsoom Parveen wanted to know about the fate of a PIA pilot, who had to bring the plane to Islamabad but he first landed in Lahore to only drop his daughter there. She also asked was the crew, involved in smuggling of heroine punished. The minister proposed to her to file a calling attention notice.

Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman Khan said that the government has committed over Rs20 billion in last four years for provision of broadband services in Balochistan. She added that the government was following a policy of providing ultra high frequency internet services to every citizen of the country. She said such facilities were available in Mastung, Zhob, Sibbi, Kalat, Awaran and other areas of Balochistan while work was under way in several other districts as well.

The minister pointed out the government was also providing broadband internet services in three agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, while the facility would be extended in rest of the tribal belt upon security clearance. The House will now resume for possible last sitting of the current session Friday at 10:30am.

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