–PPP members protest after deputy speaker refuses to allow Bilawal Bhutto to speak before Sheikh Rasheed
–Shehbaz Sharif slams Zardari’s arrest, asks deputy speaker to issue PPP co-chairman’s production orders
–PPP’s Shazia Marri says Opp members ‘being picked up one by one’ to silence dissent
ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly (NA) session on Monday was adjourned for a day after Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) members surrounded the speaker’s dais and chanted slogans against the government when Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri gave the floor to Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed instead of PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
Bilawal arrived in the assembly after the arrest of his father Asif Ali Zardari by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), 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 Rasheed’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 Rasheed 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 chairman that he would be allowed to speak for as long as he wished if the protesting members returned to their seats.
Bilawal said that it was the second time that the MNAs from Jhelum and Rawalpindi were preferred over an MNA from Larkana.
“My voice has been censored again. Two federal ministers were preferred over me,” he said.
“If I am not allowed to speak, I will not let Bilawal speak either,” thundered Sheikh Rasheed in response to Bilawal’s remark.
As the commotion showed no signs of letting up, Suri adjourned the proceedings until Tuesday when the budget is scheduled to be presented.
Earlier, while speaking on the floor of the House, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif said that former president Zardari has presented himself before NAB on every occasion and there was no need for his immediate arrest. The opposition leader said that Zardari never used delay tactics and NAB should have appreciated this.
It is worth mentioning here that the FIA is investigating 32 people in relation to money laundering from fictitious accounts, including Zardari and Talpur. Zardari’s close aide Hussain Lawai was arrested in July last year in connection with the probe.
The former president’s other close aide and Omni Group chairman Anwar Majeed a close aide and Omni Group chairman and his son, Abdul Ghani, were arrested by FIA in August 2018.
Over 20 ‘benami’ accounts at some private banks were opened in 2013, 2014 and 2015 from where transactions worth billions of rupees were made, according to sources.
The amount, according to FIA sources, is said to be black money gathered from various kickbacks, commissions and bribes.
Addressing the House before Shehbaz Sharif, PPP MNA Shazia Marri accused the NAB of “harassing” Zardari.
Marri also inquired about Zardari’s production orders from Speaker Asad Qaiser.
“He [Zardari] is a member of this House and a former president. The members look towards the speaker for the protection of the rights [of MNAs] as he [Qaiser] is the custodian of the House. Zardari has already faced jails for 12 or 13 years,” she added while requesting that the arrested leader of her party be provided with production orders.
At this, former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf also asked for the same and asked the speaker to suspend assembly proceedings until he arrives.
“NAB is harassing Zardari. In this situation, how will you protect him, when will you issue his production orders?” asked an infuriated Marri.
She lamented that opposition members were being targeted specifically as members of the government were also nominated in NAB cases and alleged that the recent arrests of MNAs Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar were also part of the same plan.
“Opposition members are being picked up one by one. The opposition is being victimised against because they talk about people’s issues,” she added.
Responding to Marri’s tirade, Interior Minister (r) 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. NAB is an independent institution and the government cannot interfere in its affairs,” he said.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi backed the interior minister’s statement while reiterating that the accountability watchdog is an “independent institution and has no connection with the government” whereas, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had clearly stated that “NAB should not be used for witch hunting and promote across the board accountability”.