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Govt, opposition in face-off in Senate, NA over economic situation

January 22, 2022

ISLAMABAD: The government and opposition on floors of the both houses of parliament on Friday traded allegations on issues relating the country’s economic condition and growing incidents of terrorism.

During the National Assembly’s proceedings, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar said the government gave boost to the national economy despite contraction caused by Covid-19 while the PMLN parliamentarians held the regime responsible for squeezing the size of the economy in the last more than three years.

PPP parliamentarian Agha Rafiullah continued to register his protest on contents of foreign minister’s speech despite warnings by Speaker Asad Qaisar to behave in the House. On an occasion, the chair also directed the security to take the PPP member out of the hall.

PMLN’s Ahsan Iqbal challenged the government for live debate on television channels on the issue of economic situation of the country. “The people will be the judge to decide whether the government has given a boost to economy or crashed it,” he said.

The speaker asked Hammad as to what would be his response to the challenge. Hammad said the National Assembly was the best forum to hold debates on national issues.

Ahsan Iqbal taking the floor said Shah Mahmood Qureshi launched himself as an alternate to Imran Khan as PTI leaders. “His today’s speech in the National Assembly was an interview to someone telling him that he should also be considered as an alternate leader to Imran Khan,” he said.

Iqbal observed as to what would be state of country’s external policy if its foreign minister was so non-serious that he pokes his nose in every other ministry except for taking care of his own job. “Today I was seeing faces of Shaukat Tarin, Shahzad Akbar, Shahbaz Gill, Farogh Nasim and Fakhar Imam in foreign minister,” the PMLN parliamentarian said.

Talking about increase in prices of fertilizer, he said that DAP which during PMLN tenure was available for Rs2,400 per bag, was not being sold for Rs10,000 while price of Urea during cultivation of wheat also jumped from Rs1,400 to Rs2,900. “It happened due to smuggling and stocking of fertilizer but the ruling party is helpless to mafia despite being in government in Islamabad and Punjab province,” he said.

He said that the incumbent government had squeezed the country’s economy as the GDP growth came down from $320 billion to $280 billion which resulted in reduction in per capita income. “ “My voter is disturbed over increase in prices of essential commodities, medicines and electricity and gas tariffs, while free medicines are also not available at government hospitals,” he said.

He said the economic statistics being shown by the government benefitted only the sugar, wheat, medicines, fertilizers and BRT mafia comprising ministers while the poor was getting poorer.

He said the government gave two poison pills to economy by devaluing Pakistan currency and increasing policy rate to over 13 percent. “As a result cost of foreign debt servicing increased and prices hiked and deficit was going out of control,” he said.

Ahsan Iqbal also spoke against social media campaign in support of presidential form of system in the country. “We do not know as to who starts such debate time and again,” he said.

The PMLN leader said that Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah also gave Pakistan, the parliamentary system and Liaquat Ali Khan become country’s first prime minister.

He suggested debate in the National Assembly on the social media so that the issue is done away with once for all. “The only way for establishment and judiciary to see country on the right path is in following the Constitution in letter and spirit,” he said.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the present government gave a new direction to the country’s foreign policy from geo-politics to geo-economic for prosperity of country and welfare of people.

He said that country’s economy has now touched 5.37% growth rate regardless of the Covid-19 situation being faced by the international economies. He pointed out that the World Bank, the Economist and Bloomberg have hailed Pakistan’s progress in the economic sector. “According to a survey of World Bank, our agriculture sector is growing by 3.3 per cent while our exports and remittances are reaching record levels besides statistics show that per capita income is also on rise,” he said.

The minister at the same time said it was price hike and inflation and not the opposition parties which was challenge for them which, he explained, was due to some international factors, including increase in prices of gas and petroleum products. “But the opposition should not spread hopelessness amongst people as it is not in interest of the country and what they tell about economy is against facts,” he said.

Admitting hike in prices of fertilizers, the foreign minister said that it resulted stocked piled up hoarder, adding that action would be taken against them. He said despite gas shortage, there was increase in production of Urea fertilizer.

He said the government welcomes criticism but the opposition parties should also talk about government’s achievements in the economic sector. “The first two years of our government were of economic stability, third year was of year of recovery and now the country’s economy is on the path to progress,” he said.

Referring to indictment of Rana Shamim, ex-chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan, the minister said the Islamabad High Court (IHC) rejected his view.

He said the affidavit came forth through media at a time when a high-profile case being heard in the IHC. “A respectful judge of IHC who was accused is not even member of that bench hearing the high profile case,” he said, adding, it was also an attempt to pressurise judiciary.

He said those behind the affidavit should understand that they in the past also did not achieve desired results from attack on Supreme Court building and release of fake audio.

Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar said it was a traditional speech from Ahsan Iqbal and lecture on Pakistan Studies when he had nothing say on economy. He said the PMLN government left 20 billion dollars current account deficit and made the country bankrupt.

“For the sake of 5.4 per cent economic rate, the PMLN government reduce foreign exchange reserves to half, circular debt increased by Rs450 billion while the foreign debts were also increasing at the rate of seven billion dollars,” he said.

On the other hand, he said the PTI government’s 5.37 per cent economic growth is at two billion dollars current account deficit and due to tax revenue and trade growth and increase in foreign exchange reserves by five billion dollars.

The PMLN members including Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Murtaza Javed Abbasi and Khurram Dastgir stood on their seats and continued to protest against providing time to the minister. “You have made us listen to lecture of a failed minister who could not even address shortage of gas in the country,” Ahsan Iqbal, while addressing the Speaker, said.

The PPP parliamentarian Agha Rafiiullah also spoke against social media campaign in support of presidential form of system. The House also passed two resolutions extending the Diplomatic and Consular Officers (Oath and Fees) Amendment Ordinance 2021 and National Rehmatul Lil Alameen (SAW) Authority Ordinance, 2021 for a further period of one hundred and twenty days.

The Statement of Contingent Liabilities of the federal government for the current fiscal year was laid before the house. The annual reports of the Council of Islamic Ideology for the period from 2012-18 and the report on Islamic Law of Inheritance were also laid before the House.

The National Assembly adopted a motion allowing the use of its hall for the 48th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers to be held in March. The motion was moved by Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

The opposition in the Senate, meanwhile, expressed grave concern over the fresh wave of acts of terrorism in various parts of Pakistan and feared the government might not be able to control it as it failed to check the spiraling inflation.

PPP Senator Raza Rabbani contended that these acts proved that the government's policy of TTP appeasement and holding negotiations with them was wrong. "And today, again the country is in the grip of terrorism,” he remarked.

The opposition lawmakers wanted suspension of routine business to discuss the new wave of terrorism in the country. At the very outset, Rabbani was on his feet, on a point of public importance to draw the House's attention towards an increase in incidents of terrorism and attacks on the security forces in the merged districts of erstwhile Fata.

He referred to the terrorist attack in Islamabad on January 18 and then the Lahore attack and noted that while the Balochistan Nationalist Army claimed responsibility, the interior minister had said the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan was behind it. He urged the chair to call the minister to clear the situation. Rabbani said the minister should be called also in reference to his statement about the terrorist outfits of Syria, Iraq and elsewhere besides the TTP.

Leader of the Opposition Yusuf Raza Gilani also fully supported Rabbani and said that terrorist activities were increasing in the country and even the military personnel were not safe. Federal Minister for Railways Muhammad Azam Swati rose to note that Pakistan had many enemies within and outside and terrorism had existed throughout country's history and strongly condemned the terror acts. He agreed that the interior minister should come and that the government was accountable to the House and explain that why the series of terror acts had again started and what was its background and where it was headed. “And what role the security agencies and intelligence agencies are playing to combat this phenomenon,” the minister said.

Senators Azam Nazir Tarar and Sadia Abbasi of PMLN also expressed concern over these incidents and wanted the minister for interior to brief the House on this matter. They said the situation was a serious issue of law and order.

JI Senator Mushtaq Ahmad said that on Tuesday last, seven incidents had happened, including the Islamabad attack and the blast targeting the Jaffar Express train in Sibi and a prominent scholar and a senior advocate were gunned down in a broad daylight in Peshawar and Dargai respectively.

He said the minister for interior had revealed that there existed sleeper cells and he should come to the House to explain and what was the plan of intelligence and security agencies on this count.

JUI-Fazl Senator Kamran Murtaza asked, "Are we ready to discuss our policies in this House while Balochistan continues to face acts of terrorism since long and unless the issue is addressed to the core, these will keep on happening in my province, Lahore and other cities."

Senator Irfan Siddiqui of PMLN said the series of incidents were a matter of grave concern and noted that even crimes had increased in Islamabad manifold, like robberies, and these indicated about the government’s priorities. He regretted that the interior minister was busy in indulging in rhetoric and said he had not seen the interior minister in the House during the last nine months.

Senator Tahir Bizenjo of the National Party warned that the incidents of terror would increase in coming days and alleged as the government had failed to check inflation, it would fail to combat terrorism as well.

On the demand of the opposition, Interior Minister Shiekh Rashid Ahmad made a brief appearance and said that there were special motives behind the killing of a cop in Islamabad, adding that the government was investigating the incident.

He said two terrorists were killed in the Islamabad shootout, adding that six mobile phones belonging to the attackers were also recovered. "I do not want to mention the details about their movement and accommodation, where they stayed and where they had their meal," the minister said.

The minister also explained that 2,680-km fencing had been completed on the Pak-Afghan border and only 21 kilometres was left and they wanted to complete it in any case. However, he noted that 200 kilometres also remained to be fenced at the Pak-Iran border.

He condemned the Lahore blast and said that an investigation into the incident was underway. He said that no one would be allowed to spoil the country's peaceful environment.

Regarding the opposition's Islamabad march, he said there was nothing to worry about and proposed to them to bring along Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as well. However, he questioned why were they were wasting their energies and of the police.

Subsequently, the opposition parties submitted an adjournment motion seeking an explanation from the minister over terror incidents in the country. The motion will be taken up on Monday.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani asked the minister to brief the House in this regard and the steps taken by the government on Monday.

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