ISLAMABAD - Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday while rejecting allegations of Opposition parties told the Senate that the government had no plan to scrap the 18th Amendment.

“It is not our strategy and politics to bury the 18th Amendment,” said the Foreign Minister while responding to the opposition on the opening day of the special session on the COVID-19 pandemic. He also stressed that there was no confusion in the government’s policy over the lockdown and tackling the pandemic.

Qureshi said that a propaganda campaign had been unleashed against the PTI government that perhaps it wanted to reverse the 18th Amendment.

“We were convinced of the usefulness of 18th Amendment and provincial autonomy yesterday and are convinced today as well,” he said adding that the government accepted good aspects of the amendment.

He reminded the house that the government had no two third majority required to bring a constitutional amendment and any weaknesses in the amendment, in the light of experiences of last 10 years, could be reviewed in consultations with the opposition.

“Don’t worry,” Qureshi told the opposition parties adding that an amendment could not be introduced without their support. The session was held in extraordinary conditions while lawmakers attended the sitting wearing masks and gloves. The galleries of the Senate chamber were also used for sitting purposes of Senators to keep a social distance among them.

Reacting to the opposition parties over their remarks regarding “poor response” of the government to the pandemic, the Foreign Minister said that the government’s policy to tackle the pandemic was clear and uniform, a national strategy has been devised in consultation with all the provinces and stakeholders. Regarding lockdown, he said that it was necessary to give flexibility to provinces to make their own decisions.

“Their provincial government was involved in devising this strategy,” he said pointing towards the criticism made by parliamentary leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the Senate Sherry Rehman. He said that PPP’s Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ai Shah was the member of the National Coordination Committee where important decisions regarding coronavirus are taken. “We also get input of PML-N through its governments in Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir,” he said.

 

Responding to the criticism by PPP that Prime Minister Imran Khan was not visible in this crisis, Qureshi said PM was in the capital and has been holding meetings on COVID-19 daily, from morning to evening. PM has chaired 11 meetings of NCC till now, he said. A meeting at National Command and Operation Centre is held daily, which is also attended by Chief Minister Sindh as well.

 

Qureshi, who is also the senior leader of the ruling party, said that being political people they understood the political needs of the opposition. He said their attitude in official meetings and before media has been visibly different. “This is their fight of survival.”

 

He also rejected the remarks of the Leader of Opposition Raja Zafarul Haq and Senator Sherry Rehman by saying that PM never said that lockdown was imposed by the elites of the country. PM was pointing towards two segments of the society, the elite that can afford lockdown and the poor class that cannot sustain themselves in a lockdown.

 

“If lockdown was extended, it was feared that 18.6 million would have been laid off,” he said, adding more people would have been pushed below the poverty line with this. “We have taken this decision on the basis of data.”

 

The Foreign Minister deplored that the PPP which was once considered a party of the federation was involved in promoting provincialism. He said that Sindh didn’t only belong to PPP because PTI and its allied party MQM was in majority in Karachi, the provincial capital. He said that the PPP government cannot do legislation through ordinances on those subjects that don’t come under its jurisdiction.

 

“We have given a greater share of equipment to Sindh. Sindh belongs to us and we are coming there to get our political strength recognised,” he said.

 

Appreciating the opposition leader for raising the issue of Indian Held Kashmir amid COVID –19 outbreak, the Foreign Minister said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government had started breaking into the houses of people in IHK on the pretext of the pandemic.

 

“People were being killed there and even dead bodies are not handed over (to the families) on the pretext of pandemic,” he said adding that he has written to OIC and Foreign Ministers of Islamic world on the issue. “There is hate mongering of Muslims going on in India,” he said.

 

He concluded that the government was ready to hear to the opposition and invited it to come, sit and talk together to make a national strategy on the pandemic.

 

Earlier, Leader of the Opposition Raja Zafarul Haq alleged that the government had failed to form the unity that was needed to fight against such emergencies. “The government hasn’t shown a responsible attitude rather an effort has been made to divide (the nation),” he said and added that Prime Minister in his remarks said that lockdown was imposed by the elite.

 

The opposition leader alleged that some cabinet members were assigned duties to speak against the opposition. “The attitude of government is negative, non-productive and divisive,” he said adding Sindh had been obstructed to work in the lockdown. He said that there was confusion among provinces to enforce lockdown and adding that Indian government was also committing human rights violation amid COVID-19 in IHK.

 

The parliamentary leader of PPP in the Senate, Senator Sherry Rehman while taking part in discussion said, “this is the first time in Pakistan’s history that we are fighting a pandemic but PM’s words of unity and healing are missing along with his presence in the Parliament.”

 

“Like the missing persons, there is a missing policy,” she said. She said that provinces had been told to fend for themselves. Provinces should not be feeling isolated and left on their own. She said that the 18th Amendment was being used to hide federal government’s incompetency and provinces were being told to do their own thing.

 

 “But the 18th Amendment has nothing to do with this,” she said and questioned why the ruling party was creating such distractions at this time. “Every day there is a tirade of abuse against Sindh which we are ignoring because we do not want to get into dirty politics, especially at this time,”

 

 She said that with the easing of lockdown, perhaps the government is heading towards herd immunity and there was a chance of losing one million people to this virus.

 

During the session, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani appreciated the services of Chairman of the Senate standing Committee on Interior Senator Rehman Malik to finalize recommendations for the government to tackle the coronavirus and to represent the Senate in the Supreme Court in a case related to the pandemic. PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi also appreciated Senator Malik.