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August 31, 2018

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Sherry expresses concern over proposed merger of media regulatory bodies

ISLAMABAD: The issue, relating to a recent phone call between Prime Minister Imran Khan and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again echoed in the Senate Thursday, as the joint opposition called on the prime minister to clear the controversy in the House.

The government came under fire from PPP senators, who feared such lapse and controversy, generated after the release of a transcript, would not serve Pakistan’s interests ahead of a visit by top officials of the President Trump administration to Islamabad.

Former Opposition leader and PPP Senator Sherry Rehman, on a point of public importance, said there was grave concern with regards to a fresh development about the phone call while Pompeo was due on September 5 and US General Joseph F Dunford was also expected to be with him.

She pointed out that an important reaction had come from the US about the telephone call between Imran and Pompeo, who should have talked to his counterpart Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and afterwards, Imran might be receiving a call from the Under Secretary. Sherry called it a lapse, which would never happen in India.

The PPP senator said it was learnt that the US had released the transcript of the phone call, leading to a new controversy, as the Foreign Office as well as Qureshi had denied outright that Pompeo had talked to Imran about terrorists hideouts inside Pakistan, whereas US State Department insisted this matter was mentioned in the phone call.

“Such ups and downs on such sensitive matters will not serve Pakistan’s interests. Qureshi said what he was told, as the call was received by the Prime Minister and there is no idea were there any commitments made. The foreign minister should clarify the situation,” she said.

PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani rose to say that a transcript had been released and the Foreign Office was taking back its statement about the press release issued by the State Department regarding the phone call that there was no talk of do more from Pompeo against terrorists.

He said that day also Imran left the House after making the speech instead of staying back to listen to concerns of the senators about the controversy. “Prime Minister himself talks about accountability and then he should himself come forward and respond to the concerns. There is deep concern in the House. He should come to the Senate and clarify the controversy. It has never happened that a government takes a position and then withdraws from it. Is the government reneging on the resolutions passed by the Parliament,” he asserted.

Responding to the concerns raised by Rabbani regarding the recommendations made by the caretaker Minister for Finance Dr. Shamshad Akhtar that the share of provinces be cut from the National Finance Commission Award by about eight per cent in view of grave security challenges, Leader of the House Shibli Faraz said that the government desired early announcement of new National Finance Commission award as it had already faced delay.

Senator Shibli said that to make such recommendations was not the mandate of a caretaker minister and it should not be taken seriously as Rabbani feared that it was in fact a prelude to the roll-back of the 18th amendment, for certain powers were against it.

He, however, said that the finance minister himself would attend the House on Friday and talk on the matter. He said that the government would not do anything without taking on board all the stakeholders and more importantly would act within the constitutional ambit.

On a point of order, Sherry expressed concern over a statement given by Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry that all the media regulatory bodies would be merged a single authority be established. She decried that how a decision had been taken without taking the parliament and relevant stakeholders on board and consulted regarding the decision to form a new regulatory body replacing Pemra and the Press Council of Pakistan.

Shibli Faraz said the PTI government believed in transparency and everything would be done in accordance with the law and constitution.

Senators Dr. Jehanzeb Jamaldini, Usman Kakar and Azam Musakhail criticised the issuance of 41 permits to Arab royals for the hunt of rare species in Pakistan, including houbara bustard. They protested that there was no such instance in any other country that areas were allotted to foreigners to hunt birds for some cash.

They insisted there was ban on such hunting and yet so many permits were issued in 2017-18. The House was informed that 18 permits were issued to Qatar, 15 to UAE, six to Bahrain and two to Saudi Arabia.

Minister for Human Rights Dr. Shireen Mazari said that it was a provincial subject under the 18th amendment and the government supported the devolution. She said that if the federal government, as being claimed, had issued such permits, it would be then probed an action taken.

She said former government of PTI had banned such hunting in the province for five years and would like such ban in other provinces but not without taking into account provincial viewpoint, Pakistan’s larger interests and in line with the apex court order thereon. In a written reply to a question by Senator Kakar, the foreign minister said that the role of his ministry was only to recommend suitable areas for hunting of houbara bustard.

The chair referred the issue of surplus wheat stocks and continuous dolling out subsidy for its exports to the relevant committee of the House, as 2 million tones of wheat was surplus and lying in godowns. There had to be a clear and realistic policy on the matter.

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