–PPP leaders, ex-PM Abbasi, Dawar urge govt to remove Bilawal’s name from no-fly list
–Shah Mahmood Qureshi says govt will implement CJP Nisar’s orders even after his retirement
–Mazari says govt trying to resolve issue of blacklist, calls it ‘illogical’
ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday expressed regret over the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s ‘rash decision’ of placing 172 individuals on the no-fly list after their names emerged in a mega money laundering probe.
Qureshi was alluding to the decision of the federal cabinet on Dec 27, wherein it had decided to place Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Faryal Talpur, Murad Ali Shah, Farooq H Naek and several other leaders and provincial ministers belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on the Exit Control List (ECL).
The SC had come down hard on the government and ordered it to review the case. In a subsequent hearing, it had directed for removal of Bilawal and Murad’s names from the ECL. However, the federal cabinet had postponed the removal of names from the no-fly list, saying the apex court had yet to issue a detailed judgement in this regard.
Addressing the National Assembly, the minister admitted the shortcomings in the decision. “The government doesn’t want to make any abrupt decisions now,” he added.
The foreign minister made these comments in response to criticism by the PPP lawmakers.
PPP leader Shazia Marri accused the government of committing “contempt of court” by not following its orders and questioned how long it will continue.
Qureshi justified that the matter had been discussed in a cabinet meeting, but the government wanted to wait for a detailed verdict. He claimed that the court had not asked the federal cabinet for immediate removal of names, but a review of the decision.
He, however, insisted that the PTI government has not refused to take off the names, it just “needs some time”.
At this, PPP’s Naveed Qamar pointed out that Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar is set to retire on January 17. Is the government waiting for him to retire then? he questioned.
Qureshi responded that the top judge’s orders will be followed even after his retirement for the ruling party has great respect for the judiciary.
Not placated, the PPP lawmakers accused the government of using ECL as a “tool for political victimisation”. Qamar alleged at political favouritism at play for “names of PTI lawmakers are removed from ECL within 24 hours”. He pointed out that Liaqat Jatoi, who belongs to PTI, was put on the list, but, “he is travelling with impunity”.
Qamar and another PPP lawmaker, Yousuf Talpur, demanded that the attorney general be summoned to parliament to clarify his stance. Qureshi, however, pleaded with the opposition to “show patience”.
He said a community is working within the Interior Ministry that decides on issues pertaining to ECL.
PPP was supported by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in its demand, as former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that his party would’ve supported the move to place Bilawal’s name on ECL, “if it had actually meant serving democracy”.
He pointed out that Bilawal has never even been a part of the government, so the ruling party should have removed his name “to show generosity, without waiting for written orders”.
Waziristan MNA Mohsin Dawar raised the issue of enforced disappearances in the session, drawing attention to the murder of a young man who had allegedly been picked up from North Waziristan, and later his dead body was found.
He questioned if the State had the power to compensate the family of the deceased. Dawar also lamented that former Malir senior superintendent police Rao Anwar, indicted in the Naqeebullah Mehsud murder case, was later “set free” by the court.
He also demanded an answer if a joint investigation team, that was formed to investigate the murder of SP Tahir Dawar had made any progress.
He seconded Abbasi’s demand that Bilawal’s name is removed from the ECL, asserting that the government maintained a ‘blacklist’ which had no legal status.
Responding to Dawar, Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari assured the lawmaker that the PTI government was working to resolve the issue of enforced disappearances and hoped that the opposition would cooperate with the legislation in this matter.
She said Shehryar Afridi, the state minister for interior, should brief the parliament on the developments in Tahir Dawar’s murder case, for “we also want to know about it”.
She added that the government is trying to resolve the issue of a blacklist as “there is no logic behind it”.
Conceding that Rao Anwar should be punished for his crimes, the human rights minister asserted that the government should look into this matter and figure out how he seems to be enjoying such privileges.
After his arrest in the Naqeebullah Mehsud murder case, the former SSP was confined for a few months to his home, declared a sub-jail, but subsequently granted bail by an anti-terrorism court in July last year.
POTATO PRICES DROP:
In the same session, the foreign minister informed the House that a number of national and international factors are at play for a drop in the prices of potatoes in the country.
It merits a mention that the farmer community protested outside the Punjab Assembly on Wednesday against low prices of potatoes and demanded a subsidy over gas, electricity and fertiliser.
“A potato is being sold at the price of one rupee per kilogram in neighbouring India due to a bumper crop of the commodity,” he said.
Qureshi added that as agriculture has become a provincial subject after the 18th Amendment.”There is a need for cooperation between the federal and provincial governments to mitigate the sufferings of potato farmers.”
He invited all political parties across the spectrum to show unity to resolve such national issues.
PAK RAILWAYS IN LOSS:
Responding to a question, Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad said that Pakistan Railways is incurring a loss of 20 million rupees annually “because it is granting discounts to its passengers”.
He informed the House that it provides a 50pc discount to citizens above 65 years of age, disabled persons and students. It is also providing free of cost travel to senior citizens above the age of 75, he added.
To another question, Minister for Aviation Division Muhammad Mian Soomro said that weekly flights of Pakistan International Airlines from Karachi to Dalbandin were reduced from two to one due to limited market demand.
He said that the national flag carrier is keeping an eye on market indicators, traffic trends and viability of this route and will take the necessary steps to expand the operation between Dalbandin and Karachi.
A bill to further amend the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was introduced in the House. Law and Justice Parliamentary Secretary Maleeka Bukhari presented the bill on behalf of Minister for Law and Justice Dr Farogh Naseem.
The House was then adjourned to meet at 11 am on Thursday.
NO FINAL DECISION ON MILITARY COURTS’ EXTENSION:
Later, Qureshi told media outside the House that opposition parties will be taken into confidence to decide about an extension in the tenure of military courts.
He told that the government will constitute a committee over the matter of military courts as there is a need to have the opposition on the same footing as the government over the matter, and a constitutional amendment is also required with a two-thirds majority.
Hence, there cannot be a final opinion on the issue without consultation with the opposition, he added.