In the words of one opposition lawmaker, the ruling PML-N has “given up its control of key issues such as the security and well-being of the country”, and in the process has rendered parliament useless.
On Tuesday, towards the end of an otherwise unremarkable sitting of the National Assembly, the PTI’s Shafqat Mehmood went after the government over their lack of interest in house proceedings, which had allowed other institutions to take over its role.
Quoting a recent statement made by Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) head Lt Gen Asim Bajwa, Mr Mehmood asked: “Shouldn’t such a statement come from the defence minister on the floor of the house?” Lt Gen Bajwa had said at a press conference in Washington earlier this week: “We already have about 182,000 troops deployed along the Afghan border. We are not looking for any involvement outside our region.” On a point of order, the PTI leader argued that in the absence of ministers, who “seem to be shirking their responsibilities”, important policy decisions were being taken outside the house. “If issues as important as the ones highlighted by Lt Gen Bajwa will not be discussed on the house floor, what else are we here for,” he asked. “When it is said that parliament is supreme, it must also be accorded due attention by bringing every single national issue to it,” Mr Mehmood said.
If Defence Minister Khawaja Asif had made this statement, Mr Mehmood said, one might have asked him one or two follow-up questions. When Mr Mehmood made these remarks, only one cabinet member – State Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Aminul Hasnat – was present in the house and most of the treasury benches were empty. Pointing towards the empty rows on the government’s side, the PTI leader said that with this attitude, people would stop taking parliament seriously “and the responsibility lies on all of us sitting in the house”. Mr Mehmood’s views echoed those of PkMAP leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai, who asked the government to seek parliament’s guidance on important issues, particularly defence and foreign affairs, at the last session. A PPP leader also accused the government of weakening the federation. Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, on a point of order, mentioned Article 154 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the Council of Common Interests must meet every 90 days.