ISLAMABAD: Acrimonious rhetoric between the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) turned into a bitter feud on Tuesday after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi characterised opposition lawmakers’ criticism of the Centre’s coronavirus response as “reeking of provincialism” — inviting scorn from PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
The trading of blames over Covid-19 continued for a second day — this time in the Senate — following a war of words between the government and opposition lawmakers in a similarly irreconcilable National Assembly session on Monday.
Speaking in the Senate on Tuesday, after hearing searing criticism from PPP Senator Sherry Rehman, Qureshi lashed out at the PPP benches, saying that a party which once “stood for the federation now reeks of provincialism” as he rejected the notion that the ruling PTI had left Sindh in the lurch amidst the pandemic.
“This is not the PPP of yore, which stood for the federation. Today, I sense the roots of provincialism in the party,” the foreign minister said. “Karachi is as much ours as it is yours. Sindh is ours. Sindh’s capital is ours — even now the people of Karachi support PTI and our allied party MQM,” he said.
The former PPP member also told the senators to “be prepared” as the PTI would strengthen its base in Sindh, “just like we did in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa”.
The foreign minister also said the government does not aim to do away with the 18th Amendment — a thorny issue for the opposition — “but its weak points should be reviewed and addressed”. He added: “We do not have two-thirds majority to bring any change so why are you afraid?”
Qureshi then alleged that Senate Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwalla, who is affiliated with the PPP, did not support calling a session of the House. Mandviwalla later took to Twitter to refute Qureshi’s claims, saying the minister’s statement was “incorrect”, and called on him to be “bold enough to take back what you stated on floor of house”.
Hours after the session of the Upper House ended, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari appeared in an emotionally-charged news conference, demanding of Qureshi to retract his statement accusing the Sindh government of fanning provincialism.
Without naming Qureshi, Bilawal said: “Mister, we know how you proved your political mettle. Don’t compel us to reveal who truly dreamed of becoming Prime Minister. Federal minister, we all know why left our party.” He also said: “This federal minister is trying to assert his political will, not that of the PTI or Imran Khan.”
“I want that minister (Qureshi) to take back his statement. If he cannot take it back, then I demand his resignation. It is unacceptable!” said Bilawal. “When I speak about Sindh, they accuse me of playing the Sindh card. But when I speak about Balochistan or Khyber Pakhtunkwa or Gilgit-Baltistan, why do they not accuse me of playing the provincial card?”
Earlier, as the debate was opened, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, PML-N’s Raja Zafarul Haq said the federal and provincial governments should be on the same page to contain the spread of coronavirus. He said the government should have summoned the sessions of both Houses due to the grave situation of Covid-19. “Unfortunately both sessions were not summoned and the opposition had to requisition the session,” he added.
He was of the view that the “constitutional institutions should be fully functional in such a critical time”. Haq said it was high time to forge national unity, rather than dividing the nation at this critical time. He also opposed the relaxation in lockdown, saying it may lead to an increase in Covid-19 cases. “The lockdown was eased despite specific reservations of doctors and health practitioners,” he added. Senator Rehman said an “unwarranted hate campaign” had been launched against her party and the Sindh government. She said such tactics would vitiate the political atmosphere. “National unity is the need of the hour to deal with the unprecedented challenge posed by coronavirus,” she added. She said a meeting of the Council of Common Interests was not convened, even though it was an appropriate constitutional forum.
Musadik Malik of the PML-N said opposition parties in the House wanted to give some positive suggestions to make the strategy on Covid-19 more effective. He said there should be an effective lockdown even after Eidul Fitr as was imposed in early weeks after the virus hit the country.
First, he said, there was the need to annihilate the virus by imposing a 4- to 6-week lockdown, following which it could be eased gradually after assessing situation on ground. He called for bifurcating the whole country on wards and unions councils basis, adding there should be 100 per cent testing of the all those having virus symptoms. Furthermore, localities should be categorised as “red, yellow and green zones”, he added.