ISLAMABAD - A Senate panel on Monday showed its serious reservations over the Punjab government’s decision to convert PML-N leader and former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s spacious residence in Lahore into a shelter home and sought a detailed report from the Ministry of Interior over the matter.

The Senate Standing Committee on Interior that met under the chair of Senator Rehman Malik strongly condemned Punjab government’s action and termed it “an act of political victimization” after PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi raised the issue.

Senator Rehman Malik said that there is thin a line between accountability and victimization and such act of victimization should be discouraged and condemned by all. “It seems some Einstein (a reference to a known physicist) in Punjab government is conspiring against Prime Minister Imran Khan as the said move is a violation of the court order,” he said  and directed the Ministry of Interior to look into the matter and submit a detailed report to the committee within three days.

Last week, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led Punjab government had converted former finance minister Dar’s five kanal house in Lahore’s upscale Gulberg locality into a Panahgah (shelter home) for the homeless.

On July 27 last year, the Lahore city district government had taken possession of Dar’s house after the National Accountability Bureau seized his all movable and immovable assets in connection with a corruption reference.

Committee also “strongly condemned the ongoing longest curfew in IHK”

Punjab government had started a process to auction the house but the Islamabad High Court issued a stay order on a petition of his wife.

The committee also sought a detailed report from the interior ministry about the authenticity of audio clip purported to be released by former banned Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan about his escape from the custody of law enforcement agencies.  Senator Abbasi raised the issue of escape of former spokesperson of banned TTP. The chairman committee directed the ministry to submit a detail report on the escape of former spokesperson and about authenticity of the audio message.  The committee also “strongly condemned the ongoing longest curfew in Occupied Kashmir” besides observing one minute silence for the Chinese victims of deadly coronavirus. It expressed solidarity with the people and government of China. 

At the outset, Senator Malik urged the government to take the case of continuous unprovoked ceasefire violations and targeting of civilian population by India to the United Nations General Assembly and International Court of Justice (ICJ). He advised the government to request the United Nations Secretary General during his upcoming visit to Pakistan, to appoint a special commission to investigate all ceasefire violations by India and increase the strength of Military Observers across Line of Control (LoC).

Senator Malik informed the participants that many Pakistani students stranded in China, following outbreak of coronavirus have contacted him demanding their safe return at the earliest. He pointed out that many countries have already evacuated their citizens and students from virus-hit China but Pakistani students have not yet been rescued.

He directed the Ministry of Interior to establish isolation centres at each airport and thoroughly do screening of all the international passengers to prevent outbreak. The lawmakers observed that passengers arriving from China are not being screened properly at airports as there is no such arrangements.

Senator Rehman Malik directed that the travel history of all passengers arriving Pakistan through international flights should be checked to know about the origin of their journey as many from China are arriving Pakistan through transit flights. The committee directed that all Chinese working on CPEC should be screened and medical clearance certificate should be issued to them.

The meeting unanimously passed the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Amendment) Bill after through deliberations. The committee proposed that chairman Senate and speaker National Assembly separately should nominate one member each from the opposition and treasury benches from the Senate and National Assembly for the Board of governors of NACTA. 

The meeting discussed the matter of quality of drinking water being supplied to parliament house, parliament lodges and other areas of Islamabad. Senator Malik said that contaminated water is causing is serious diseases to the citizens of capital and directed the PCRWR (Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources) and Capital Development Authority (CDA) to submit a detailed report on the quality of water and brief the committee in next meeting.

The matter regarding grabbing money through anonymous and fraudulent calls on the pretext of Jazz Cash and other illegal online transfer of money was also discussed in the meeting.

The chairman committee directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to take stringent action against those who are involved in these illegal activities across the country as the victims are mostly poor people. He directed Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to apprise the committee as under what law the cellular companies are dealing with monetary matters and under what law they have been issued licenses to do the same.

Senator Malik said guidelines from State Bank of Pakistan should be sought to regulate all these activities and to stop misuse of these services. “I have talked to the Governor State Bank of Pakistan who assured full assistance to the concerned authorities in regulating the on-line transfer of money.” He expressed his displeasure over the absence of representative of Jazz and directed PTA to issue show cause notice to the said company.  He directed that representatives from all cellular companies operating in Pakistan and dealing with financial transactions should appear in the next meeting.