ISLAMABAD - Minister for Foreign Affairs Khawaja Muhammad Asif on Wednesday informed the Senate that Executive had the prerogative to appoint any suitable person to serve as an Ambassador to any country and there was no case pending with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against the Ambassador-designate to Washington.

Responding to a calling attention notice moved by Senator Samina Saeed, he said there was no Constitutional hurdle in the appointment of Ali Jahangir Siddiqui as Ambassador to the United States as 20 per cent quota had been reserved for appointing non- career persons as envoys.

He said that the Ambassador-designate had not yet been indicted in any case and NAB was just conducting an inquiry against him.

Such inquiries were being conducted against several politicians and officers, he added.

He could not be termed a convict until proved guilty, he said, adding, the matter was also subjudice.

He urged the Opposition to move an amendment in law making it mandatory that all important appointments, including those of Ambassadors, confirmed by the Parliament.

He pointed out that American Senate confirmed over 4,000 appointments and that practice could be emulated in Pakistan also.

Responding to point of order regarding private tour of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to the United States, Khawaja Asif said that the Prime Minister had gone to the US on a private visit.

The Prime Minister did not believe in protocol and there was no harm if he was searched at a US airport, he added.

Earlier, speaking on a calling attention notice, Senator Samina Saeed said that the country was passing through a difficult phase and needed a senior diplomat as Ambassador in the United States.

Ali Jahangir Siddiqui was an inexperienced person and he was appointed as Ambassador without consulting the stakeholders, she added.

Meanwhile, the Senate unanimously condemned the massacre of 250 to 300 Huffaz in a seminary in Kunduz, Afghanistan in an indiscriminate bombardment about two weeks ago.

The resolution was moved by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) Senator Maulana Attaur Rehman, strongly condemned the killings of Huffaz in a ‘Dastar Bandi’ ceremony in a seminary of Kunduz, Afghanistaan.

The resolution said that the House expresses solidarity with the heirs of the deceased Huffaz, who were martyred in a ceremony. Minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar on Wednesday apprised the Senate that Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi would announce an emergency plan for tuberculosis (TB) control on Friday.

Replying to various supplementary questions during the Question Hour, the Minister said TB was a major public health issue in the world and one of the top killers globally.

Pakistan ranked 5th in the list of high burden countries after India, China, Indonesia and Philippines, she added.

The Minister said that in 2016, 268 out of 100,000 people suffered from TB and that incidence rate was declining at 1.5 per cent every year as a result of the efforts of TB programme.

She said that tuberculosis case notification had increased during the last few years as a result of expansion in network of TB care facilities and engagement of the private sector.

The Minister said that it was important to understand that TB cases were already there in the community. "We need to find these cases and put them on appropriate treatment."

She said that the National Strategic Plan had been developed to detect 85 per cent of the TB cases by 2020 and treat 90 per cent of them.

She said that TB was not fast spreading in the country.

owever, TB cases already present in the population were being diagnosed and treated, which indicated the programme's success, she added.

Saira Afzal Tarar also informed the Senate that Pakistan was ranked 54th amongst 84 countries with high prevalence of tobacco smoking.

Replying to a question during the Question Hour, the Minister said that almost 24 million (19.1 per cent) adults currently used tobacco in any form in Pakistan.

That accounted for 15.6 million (12.4 per cent) adults, who currently smoked tobacco and another 9.6 million (7.7 per cent) adults, who used smokeless tobacco (Global Adult Tobacco Survey, 2014), she added.

Moreover, 5,000 Pakistanis were admitted to hospitals every day because of diseases caused by tobacco use (Pakistan Health Education Survey, 1999), she said.

She said that in Pakistan, tobacco was a cause of death of around 160,189 persons every year. Moreover, the economic cost of smoking amounted to Rs 143.208 billion , she said.

SCHEME INTRODUCED  FOR MERIT-BASED EXAMS

Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Muhammad Balighur Rehman informed the Senate that the government had introduced scheme titled “National Education Reform Initiative” with an allocation of Rs 500 million aimed at modernising, standardizing and merit based examination system across the country.

Replying to a question in the House, the Minister said that for the purpose, quality enhancement cells in 29 Educational Boards would be established to improve capacity of stakeholders like competencies, learning outcomes for different courses, training of teachers, paper setters, examination supervisory and assessment staff to design valid and reliable tests / levels of cognition / application of latest assessment tools.

The scheme was being executed by the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, he said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Khawaja Muhammad Asif apprised the Senate that there were 1,357 and 1,580 Pakistani prisoners in Riyadh and Jeddah regions respectively.

Replying to various questions during Question Hour, the Minister said that the main charges against them were drugs related, bringing un-prescribed tranquiliser tablets, theft, forgery, immoral crimes, murder, rape and brawl/fighting.

He said that as per local regulations, practicing Saudi Arabian lawyers were permitted to appear in the local courts.

The Minister said as many as 66 Pakistanis had been executed in Saudi Arabia since 2013.

The main crimes committed by such individuals were drug related crimes, rape and murder, he said.