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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Foreign Minister (FM) Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday traded barbs in the National Assembly, with the former requesting the prime minister to order the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to tape the phones calls of the latter, accusing him of being “involved in Kashmir sell-out”.

Speaking on a point of personal explanation, Bilawal claimed that Qureshi was “booted out” as the foreign minister by the then PPP government, after it was revealed that he was busy in campaigning against Yousaf Raza Gillani – the then prime minister – to become the prime minister in his place.

“I would like to request the Prime Minister [Imran Khan] to order the ISI to tape the phone calls of the member from Multan [Shah Mahmood Qureshi],” he maintained.

In the same breath, he warned Prime Minister Imran Khan to be careful of his foreign minister, saying PM Khan does not know him like he does, adding the sole reason Qureshi got sacked as foreign minister by the PPP was for lobbying to become the prime minister.

“Don’t trust him [Qureshi] Mr Khan as he is the man who used to shout full-throated slogans of jiye Bhutto and aik Zardari sub pe bhari in order to keep his position intact,” he recalled.

Responding to Bilawal, a visibly-perturbed Qureshi did not talk much about the allegations levelled against him, but he did remind him not to forget that it is that very Gillani, who is now opposition leader in the Senate with the votes of the treasury members.

Without going into any further details, he also said that “he also knew Bilawal when he was a little child”, adding “I also know your father Asif Zardari”.

He said the PPP leadership tended to make the “kid” [Bilawal] read out from pre-written scripts and he got switched on and off on auto.

He said that it would take some time before Bilawal learned politics.

A passionate foreign minister, who came under immense criticism from the PPP chairman, said that the treasury benches would not let anyone from the opposition including the opposition leader to speak in the House, if they did not let the prime minister speak.

During his speech, Bilawal also lashed out at the government’s legislative process, accusing it of rigging.

“We think that this budget session has become a source of embarrassment for every Pakistani, Mr Speaker! I complain to you that you have snatched our rights from us,” he maintained.

Bilawal told NA Speaker Asad Qaiser that the opposition lawmakers expected him to keep the “sanctity of the chair” and act neutrally.

He said that if “rigging” had not been done, on Tuesday, when the finance bill was being approved, the government would not have been able to obtain 172 votes.

He said that the opposition members had more rights than merely reading out their amendments to the bill. “We have the right to be heard too,” he said.

“If our right to vote is not protected then what will become of the protection of the right of ordinary Pakistanis,” he questioned.

Bilawal said the opposition asked for a recount of the votes but the speaker did not oblige him, adding even Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri kept taking time and did not oblige the opposition.

However, Bilawal admitted that the opposition members were also to blame for their poor attendance during the session.

In an obvious reference to opposition leader in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif’s absence from budget session on Tuesday, he said that his two MNAs attended the session despite deaths in their families, adding he also forced his father Asif Zardari to sit in House till end despite his poor health.

He accused the NA Speaker of not protecting the rights of opposition members, adding that the whole nation saw that if you did not rig the parliamentary process, you wouldn’t have received 172 votes.

Taking a dig at Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, Bilawal said that an unelected member kept rejecting the opposition’s amendments.

“According to Rule 276, if there is a voice vote challenge, you have to count it,” he added.

Bhutto told NA Speaker that he challenged the vote during the last phase of the legislation but “you did not listen to me”.

“What else is it, if not rigging,” Bilawal asked before concluding his speech, leaving and then returning when the foreign minister challenged him to come back.

Bilawal said that when the US is withdrawing from Afghanistan, he should be focusing on arranging a phone call with President Joe Biden due to Pakistan’s strategic importance.

“It is a matter of shame that our premier doesn’t even get a phone call,” he added.

He said that the Sindh Assembly speaker had banned opposition lawmakers for creating a ruckus.

“The Pakistan resolution was passed from the Sindh Assembly,” he said, adding that the opposition had not presented a single cut motion during provincial budget proceedings.

“This shows you their seriousness,” he added.

Speaking after Bhutto concluded his speech, former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said he supported everything said by Bilawal.

Abbasi, like Bhutto, turned his guns on Speaker Asad Qaiser, criticising him for not honouring agreements with opposition members.

“We sit with you and reach agreements time and again but no attention is paid towards them,” he lamented.

The PML-N leader said that as per the rules of the House, whenever a vote is cast or recorded, it should be recounted as well.

Speaking about incarcerated MNAs Khursheed Shah and Ali Wazir Khan, Abbasi said they also had the right to sit in parliamentary proceedings.

“Khursheed Shah is one of the oldest members of this House…didn’t you see Shah’s chair vacant for the past two years,” he questioned.

Abbasi told NA Speaker that National Assembly runs according to the rules, not your wishes.

As the PML-N leader spoke, members of the treasury benches started shouting slogans and jeering him.

Abbasi said PM Imran Khan will not be allowed to speak if the treasury benches prevented the opposition leader from speaking as well.

“If the opposition leader cannot speak here, the leader of the House [prime minister] will not be able to speak as well,” he warned.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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