The National Assembly witnessed scenes of chaos on Monday as opposition members surrounded the speaker’s dais, chanting slogans against the government, when Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri gave the floor to Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid instead of PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
Bilawal arrived in the assembly after the arrest of his father Asif Ali Zardari, after which the opposition demanded that he be allowed to speak first. A visibly annoyed Suri continued to tell the protesting members to return to their seats and warned that he will not succumb to any pressure.
Suri assured the protesting MNAs that Bilawal will be allowed to speak after Sheikh Rashid’s speech. The deputy speaker said that he had given the floor to the railways minister because the latter wanted to respond to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, who had named Rashid in his speech earlier.
“Do you want me to adjourn the sitting like I did last time?” asked Suri. He then addressed Bilawal directly, assuring the PPP chairperson that he would be allowed to speak for as long as he wished if the protesting members returned to their seats.
“If I am not allowed to speak, I will not let Bilawal speak either,” thundered Sheikh Rashid.
As the commotion showed no signs of letting up, Suri adjourned the National Assembly proceedings until Tuesday when the budget is scheduled to be presented.
Call for Zardari’s production orders
Earlier, PPP MNA Shazia Marri accused the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) of “harassing [PPP co-Chairperson] Asif Ali Zardari” after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) denied the former president’s bail plea in a fake accounts case.
During today’s National Assembly sitting, Marri asked Speaker Asad Qaiser when he would issue Zardari’s production orders.
“He [Zardari] is a member of this House and a former president,” she told Qaiser. “The members look towards the speaker for the protection of the rights [of MNAs] as he [Qaiser] is the custodian of the house.”
She asked the speaker to ensure the presence of Zardari in the Assembly and issue his production orders.
“NAB is harassing Asif Ali Zardari,” a visibly charged Marri declared. “In this situation, how will you protect him, when will you issue his production orders?”
She claimed that opposition members were being facing discrimination and pointed out that members of government were also nominated in NAB cases.
Referring to the arrests of MNAs Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, Marri said: “Opposition members are being picked up one by one. The opposition is being victimised against because they talk about people’s issues.”
“NAB officials are outside the residence of Asif Zardari, who has already faced jails for 12 or 13 years,” she lamented.
Responding to Marri’s tirade, Interior Minister retired Brig Ijaz Shah said that the government had “nothing to do” with the high court’s order to turn down Zardari’s bail plea.
“This is a court matter,” he said. “NAB is an independent institution and the government cannot interfere in its affairs.”
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reiterated the interior minister’s statement and said that NAB is and “independent institution and has no connection with the government”. He further said that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had always maintained that “NAB should not be used for witch hunting” and that accountability should be held “across the board”. He also pointed out that the case against Zardari was not initiated by the PTI government.
Former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf also asked the speaker to issue production orders for Zardari and suspend assembly proceedings until he arrives.
Shehbaz Sharif, speaking briefly on the arrest, said that there was “no reason” for NAB to arrest Zardari as the latter had been appearing before the anti-corruption watchdog and the courts for case proceedings. He urged the speaker to issue production orders for Zardari urgently.
Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry expressed surprise at Sharif’s statement regarding the cancellation of Zardari’s bail and said: “I thought Shehbaz Sharif will take the credit of [Zardari’s] arrest as the investigations in the case were started in 2015” when the PML-N was in power.
“The then interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar, had boasted that [the PML-N government] had discovered these bank accounts,” Fawad recalled.