ISLAMABAD -  As Pakistan and the United States are making efforts to improve ties, Minister of State for Finance Rana M Afzal Khan Wednesday tried to lend a hand – only by speaking in English in the National Assembly.

Delivering speeches in English is nothing new in Pakistan’s parliament as the constitution allows the lawmakers to speak in English or Urdu in the National Assembly and the Senate. In fact some lawmakers prefer English over Urdu.

But since Rana Mohammed Afzal Khan was aiming to please a group of American visitors who had come to witness the proceedings, the opposition took him to task.

Khan started by saying he would speak in English for the convenience of “foreign” guests sitting in the gallery. “I will speak in English, so that our foreign guests can understand,” he said.

But soon as he started, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Dr Shireen Mazari launched a protest, asking him to speak in Urdu. “Only to appease the visitors you should not speak in other languages. Why don’t you speak in Urdu,” she objected.

NA Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi tried to rescue the state minister and reminded Mazari that the lawmakers could speak in both the languages - Urdu and English – under the rules. He encouraged Khan to continue speaking in English, which prompted vigorous protest by the PTI lawmakers.

Mazari said she knew English was one of the two languages for the parliamentary proceedings but even most of the lawmakers did not understand English. “Even the member who has asked question [seeking reply from the state minister] may not understand his answer. You should facilitate the members instead of appeasing the guests,” she remarked.

English has been Pakistan’s official language since independence. Article 251 of the constitution says “arrangements should be made” to use Urdu as the official language and other purposes within 15 years from 1973. In 2015, the government issued an executive order to replace English with Urdu as the country’s official language in phases. However, practically, English remains the official language.

Rana Afzal made full use of the chair’s backing and completed his statement in English amid the hue and cry of the opposition members led by the PTI.

The state minister claimed the government was taking various steps for revival of sick industrial units in the country.

He said various concessions were available to local manufacturers including pharmaceutical manufacturers, textile industry, solar sector, aviation, mining and agro-based industries. Khan pledged that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi would announce a comprehensive package in two or three weeks regarding industrial refunds.

The minister said from January this year, “we will be getting and exchanging information regarding accounts of Pakistani nationals in Swiss Banks.”

The lawmakers continued to show least interest in the proceedings as quorum was pointed out right at the start of the day. The chair gave time to the treasury members to arrange for the quorum.

They managed to bring some lawmakers to proceed but by the end of the day, only 11 lawmakers were sitting in the hall.

Others had opted out one-by-one or in groups.

Federal minister Chaudhry Barjees Tahir, Rana Mohammed Afzal Khan and Rana Muhammad Hayat Khan were seen gossiping with former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, inviting all members’ and media’s attention.

The former interior minister, who did not join PM Abbasi’s cabinet after Nawaz Sharif’s ouster in July last year, has been in the news for his war of words with another former minister – Pervez Rashid.

The house passed three bills: “The Federal Employees Benevolent Fund and Group Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2017”, “The Marine Insurance Bill 2017”, and “The Corporate Rehabilitation Bill 2017”.

The house also started debate on the rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab Ansari in Kasur, which sparked nationwide protests.