ISLAMABAD - The joint opposition in the Senate Thursday demanded of Prime Minister Imran Khan to explain his position over the controversy surrounding his telephonic conversation with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The opposition demanded of the prime minister to clarify on the floor of the house what exactly had been discussed during the telephonic call.

After last week’s conversation between PM Imran Khan and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US State Department in a statement had said that “Secretary Pompeo raised the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan and its vital role in promoting the Afghan peace process.” Pakistan rejected the statement as factually and incorrect and urged the US not to twist the facts.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman of PPP was the first one who raised the issue on the floor of the Senate and said that US had released the transcript of the telephonic conversation. She said that after the release of transcript, Foreign Office had apparently withdrawn from its earlier position and had accepted the US version. She said the Foreign Office that had been earlier challenged the statement of US State Department now “did not want to prolong the controversy and wanted to bury it before Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Pakistan.”

Senator Rehman said the controversy should have been resolved before US secretary of State’s arrival and it was only the prime minister who knew about the content of the conversation. She said that PM Imran Khan would be in a position to reveal the contents of the conversation and explain as to what assurances had been given to Pompeo. “He is not the Prime Minister of PTI alone. He is the Prime Minister of Pakistan and we do not want to embarrass him,” she said.

Criticising the PTI government, she said that PM Imran Khan compromised his position by taking the call of Secretary of State as this conversation should have been made between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Mike Pompeo. “Tomorrow, they will ask you (PM) to talk to their under-secretary of state,” she remarked.

Former Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani also said that the prime minister who talked to the US Secretary of State should himself explain his position. “This is demand of the combined opposition in the Senate that PM should come in the house and clear this controversy,” he stressed. He said that this was the first time that Foreign Office had budged from his position in such a manner. “The house has concerns if the government would withdraw from its position,” he said and demanded that Prime Minister who talked about accountability should take the house into confidence. He questioned whether Pakistan had withdrawn from its principled stance. He further put a question mark that whether the government was going to build relations with the US on the terms contrary to the original resolutions passed by  the parliament.

Acting Chairman Senate Saleem Mandviwala said he would ask Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to come for an explanation and would also write to the prime minister in this regard.

Earlier, PPP Senator and former chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani warned the government that any reduction in provincial shares from the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award would be a step towards rolling of the landmark 18th Constitutional Amendment.

He while quoting some reports said caretaker finance minister Dr Shamshad Akhtar had under taken a study that suggested the reduction of provincial shares from the NFC Award from 57.5 per cent to 49.3 per cent. Referring to Section 3-A of Article 160 of the Constitution, he said the reduction in the share would be a violation of the Constitution.

He said that though the government had yet to decide on the matter, the Council of Common Interest (CCI) was the proper forum to discuss if the national security needs had increased.  He said federal expenditure should be curtailed instead of a cut in share of the provinces. “Such logics are coming from the people who want roll back of 18th amendment”, he remarked. “These people did not want decentralization,” he said adding that NFC awards had not been given despite formation of commission during dictatorial regimes.

“If the share was reduced, the Senate will rise as a wall against the move to protect the rights of provinces,” he warned.

 National Party Senator Hasil Bazenjo also endorsed the remarks of Senator Rabbani. He said that the proposal was a step towards rolling back of 18th Amendment as “they are starting from NFC and this will end with the rollback of 18th Amendment.”

 Acting Chairman Senate Salim Mandviwala however observed that a suggestion by caretakers meant nothing.  “This House will not allow any such thing to happen”, he assured.

 Leader of the House in the Senate Syed Shibli Faraz viewed that a caretaker minister had no role to make such amendments. He said and stressed that the proposal should not be taken seriously and added that Finance Minister Asad Umar would take the house into confidence shortly.

Senator Sherry Rehman also raised the issue of government’s announcement to merge all media regulatory bodies to form one regulatory body. “It would be a massive change” she said. She said that the government wanted to impose curbs on media through this through this move. She referred to recent press talk of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry who had said that the government had decided to do away with PEMRA and Press Council of Pakistan (PCP) and after consultations with some media friends. The minister said that the new body would not only look after electronic and print media but also cyber media or social media as well. The minister said that censorships should apply across the board, she lamented adding that relevant stakeholders had not been consulted.

The house opened the debate an adjournment motion moved by PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi on the issue of “rigging in the general elections, 2018” but the chair postponed it for today (Friday) because of absence of ministers in the house. The house also passed a unanimous resolution on the International Day of Victims on Enforced Disappearances and condemned the “abhorrent practice” of enforced disappearances and expressed solidarity with the families of missing persons.