ISLAMABAD        -       The opposition in the Senate on Monday protested over “high handedness” of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) by allegedly denying the opportunity to Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari to record his statement via video link in Toshakhana corruption reference 

The opposition staged a protest walkout from the House after the parliamentary leader of PPP in the House Senator Sherry Rehman said that former President Asif Ali Zardari was denied opportunity to record his statement in the NAB court via a video link despite his underlying health conditions and the risk of Covid-19. 

It is shocking that Islamabad was shut down and turned into a war-zone while police check posts were established at every corner, she said adding that all roads to NAB court were blocked for miles with barbed wires and armed riot police.  

Senator Sherry Rehman said that former president had requested everyone not to gather outside NAB after seeing what happened in Lahore during PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz’s appearance before the bureau. We were asked to only send in lawyers but even lawyers were not permitted to enter in the court rooms, she added. 

“PPP has always stood for accountability but the federal government has clearly been biased against its political opponents. Why is there a different standard of accountability?” she questioned. 

The PPP senator remarked that a political witch-hunt was going on as there were separate laws for the PTI and the opposition. “Cronies of the government who have been identified for NAB cases are roaming scot-free but the opposition is being targeted without any legitimate basis.”  She said that PTI government handed over its polio programme to unqualified people, which resulted in criminal negligence and a rise in polio cases but no investigation was ever held in this connection.  

“In the eyes of the international community, Pakistan has become a laughing stock. Even Human Rights Watch has taken notice of this. Pakistan Bar Council and Supreme Court Bar Association have also condemned NAB’s unlawful arrests and abuses, which is becoming a source of embarrassment for Pakistan,” she added. She demanded that the issue should be referred to the parliamentary committee for scrutiny. 

JUI-F Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri also condemned the “high handedness of NAB” and said that the bureau was only meant to defame the politicians. 

Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem in his response said it was not understandable whether PPP had objection over NAB, or the appearance of former President Zardari in NAB court or the security arrangements taken during his appearance? He said that no road of the capital was closed for this purpose. He also questioned what was the purpose to protest when PPP leader appeared before the curt following rule of law? 

The leader of House remarked that PTI’s government was the first one in the history whose sitting ministers had been appearing before the anti-corruption watchdog. “If the opposition has objection over NAB law, we are ready to sit with them to amend it,” he said adding that the accountability process would continue and all were equal before law. 

The parliamentary leader of PML-N in the Senate Mushahid Ullah Khan demanded that both Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari should explain their positions about latter’s statement that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs failed in internationalizing the Kashmir issue in an effective manner. He said that the foreign minister’s statement against Saudi Arabia has forced Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Faiz Hameed to visits the kingdom to smooth Pakistan’s relations with it. He said the government should give an explanation over the statement of human rights minister. 

The House passed the Anti-Terrorism Amendment Bill 2020 with majority of vote amid opposition of Jamaat-e-Islami. The bill is aimed at fulfilling the requirement of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global anti-money laundering watchdog. 

However, the House deferred two other FATAF-related bills, the Islamabad Capital Territory Trust Bill 2020 and the Control of Narcotic Substances (Amendment) Bill 2020 till today (Tuesday) after the opposition objected that it wanted to move an amendment in the trust bill.  

The government pressed that the bill should be passed without any amendment and as passed by the National Assembly as there were constraints of time to fulfil the requirement of the FATF. The Leader of House Dr Shahzad Waseem was of the view that all the three bills had been discussed and passed by the standing committees concerned and there was no need to introduce any amendments in these at the moment.  

The opposition remarked that the treasury could not deprive them of their right to introduce amendment in any bill at any time. After hearing both sides, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani deferred the bills for today.