Monday, April 06, 2015

Joint session on Yemen marred by political debates

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the joint-session of Parliament after it resumed after break on Monday. The session was called to discuss the situation in Yemen and Pakistan's role...

Joint session on Yemen marred by political debates
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the joint-session of Parliament after it resumed after break on Monday.

The session was called to discuss the situation in Yemen and Pakistan's role in the crisis.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif read out the government's policy statement and informed parliamentarians that Saudi Arabia had requested Pakistan for military assistance in Yemen.

The session was marred by debate on the return of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lawmakers to the National Assembly after seven months.

The Joint Session will now meet tomorrow morning at 11:00.

MQM MNAs return to Parliament

Dr. Farooq Sattar of MQM said it is a ticklish issue and Pakistan will have to remain extremely neutral.

He said we should treat this issue as an issue between two sovereign states, adding that Pakistan should find a solution to the crisis minus war and play an effective role for the purpose.

He added that Pakistan’s frontiers are already insecure and we should not complicate them further.

Qureshi questions whether this is a military solution to a diplomatic problem

Shah Mahmood Qureshi of PTI appreciated convening of the Joint Session of the Parliament to crystalise the national consensus on the situation in Yemen and role of Pakistan.

He was also of the view that the opening statement of the Defence Minister was not very much clear about how the government intends to tackle the challenge.

Qureshi went on to say that there have been conflicting claims as on one side the Saudi media was claiming that Pakistan has already committed support, while on the other, the defence minister said Parliament would be taken into confidence before any decision.

He further said the government should share with Parliament, Saudi Arabia’s expectations from Pakistan.

Qureshi then questioned whether this was a military solution to a diplomatic problem.

He went on to say that his view and Imran Khan’s view is same as Aitzaz, adding that Pakistan should consult friends in the Middle East.

He also expressed satisfaction that most Pakistanis stranded in Yemen have been brought back safely.

Fazl says Pakistan will need to demonstrate intelligence on Yemen issue

After initially lashing out at PTI and questioning their resignations as well as presence in Parliament, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman said that Pakistan should rather play the role of a negotiator and push for dialogue.

Supporting Aitzaz’s demand, Fazl went on to say that Parliament should be taken into confidence regarding the government’s stance on the extent of involvement.

He added that all stakeholders need to be informed on the kind of agreements and effects on Pakistan.

Ahsan raises questions on Yemen statement

Aitzaz Ahsan said it was government who had brought PTI MNAs back to Parliament.

“A situation has been resolved. Does the defence minister want by-elections to be held in 34 constituencies?”

He further said that the government should show some flexibility rather than pointing fingers at everyone, adding that MQM and PTI might have an issue over NA-246 but other members must show some flexibility.

The senator then brought attention back to the situation in Yemen. He said there was nothing concrete in the statement read out earlier by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif. Ahsan sought clarification on what the defence minister meant by ‘strong response.’

Mr Ahsan also asked what would be Pakistan’s response and the government needed to provide clarification. "Is the government sending the army or not," Ahsan asked.

The senator asked who would bear the cost if Pakistan provided military assistance to Saudi Arabia, adding that under whose command would the troops be under.

He went on to say that the specific threats to Saudi Arabia’s regional security have not been shared with everyone.

Ahsan added that is Saudi Arabia threatened from outside or within.

He further said PM Nawaz should instead have consulted all leaders from all places including, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Turkey, Tehran, Dhaka, Riyadh and tried to bring the Yemen situation to a ceasefire.

He added that what seems to be the reason behind the fire in all the Muslim countries including Pakistan.

MQM walks out of session

Members of the MQM staged a token walk-out despite the insistence of NA speaker Ayaz Sadiq of them not to do so. Following the walk-out speaker Ayaz Sadiq asked members present in the join-session to go and bring back MQM workers.

Khawaja Asif says PTI MNAs should be asked about resignations

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said that it was a constitutional responsibility to ask them (PTI) to stand up and ask them one by one about their resignations.

“They should be asked if they have resigned,” Asif said while speaking to the National Assembly speaker.

Asif further said that PTI should show some morals as they had been abusing the same Parliament they were now part of.

Farooq Sattar addresses session

MQM leader Dr. Farooq Sattar addressed the joint-session of Parliament and said the presence of 'strangers' affected the constitutionality of the Parliament.

Commotion in the House

The session started around 11:45 am, but was marred by shouting and chanting of slogans from some lawmakers.

“I will have no choice but to adjourn the proceedings for 15 minutes. Please don’t make me do that,” said the NA Speaker when the shouting did not stop.

Prime minister urged to attend discussion

“This is a victory for democracy if PTI members have returned to Parliament now,” said Opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah.

He said that if lawmakers of the PML-N had to protest, they should protest against its own government as Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had brought the PTI lawmakers back to the House.

“We are discussing a very important issue today. A message will be conveyed if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was also present in the House,” said Shah.

“I propose that we may adjourn the session for an hour so that the prime minister can also be part of this session. If the prime minister is also here, it will raise the importance of the session,” he said.

Khawaja Asif said that the prime ministers meeting with the Sri Lankan president was pre-scheduled.

He said that the prime minister had engagements until 3:30 pm and that would hopefully participate in the discussion afterwards.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said that consensus could be developed between the government and the opposition on the issue.

“These are state activities. SAARC and Sri Lanka both have their importance. All leaders will speak on this issue. This session may go on for one or two days,” he said.

He proposed that the prime minister attend the session after getting done with his prior engagement with the Sri Lankan president.

Both sides eventually agreed that the defence minister would brief the House on developments in the Middle East, and then the House would be adjourned until 5:00 pm so the prime minister may also be able to attend the session.

Defence minister briefs House on Yemen crisis

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif briefed the House on the developments in Yemen, progress on evacuation of Pakistani nationals and Saudi Arabia’s request for military assistance from Pakistan.

He said the situation in Yemen had been deteriorating the last few weeks and raised several implications for Pakistan and the whole region.

Asif added that given the gravity of the situation and democratic traditions, PM Nawaz decided that the subject merits in-depth reflection in Parliament and this will help the government to reach decisions in national interests which are based on consensus.

The government’s priority was to ensure the safety of Pakistanis and PM Nawaz monitored the evacuation personally. A crisis cell was formed at the Ministry to Foreign Affairs for coordination of evacuation. “We rose to the expectations’ of our nation and successfully evacuated our nationals.”

Asif thanked the support provided by the government of Saudi Arabia for assistance in evacuation. He thanked China which also providing assistance.

'Unflinching commitment to Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty'

The minister said the government’s policy had been consistent that Pakistan would not let Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty be threatened. Asif said that the prime minister had communicated this several times to the Saudi leadership.

“The prime minister emphasised that Pakistan attaches great importance to Saudi Arabia,” Asif said.

He said that Saudi Arabia had asked Pakistan for ground troops, fighter jets and navy ships.

“We reiterated our unflinching and unwavering commitment to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Any violation of Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity would evoke strong response from Pakistan,” he said.

"This was our stance from the beginning and this is what we said on our delegation’s visit to Riyadh.”

Iran foreign minister to visit Pakistan

He said that PM Sharif had also visited Turkey last week and that both countries held similar stances on the issue.

He said that both countries agreed that continued crisis in Yemen could push the region into turmoil. Pakistan and Turkey consider Saudi Arabia as a ‘brother’ and vowed to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“Pakistan and Turkey agreed that it is in our interest to keep region free from turmoil,” he said.

He said that Pakistan had taken an initiative to restore peace in the region.

In this regard, the Turkish president would visit Iran, while the Iranian foreign minister would visit Pakistan on April 8, he said.

At the end of his briefing, he reiterated that any decision by Pakistan would be taken with the consent on Parliament.

“Decisions will be according to the wishes of people of Pakistan. The government will greatly appreciate guidance from elected representatives of Pakistan,” Khawaja Asif said.

The minister also spoke of sacrifices rendered by our soldiers in the ongoing war on terrorism. Asif added that the Pakistan army was the only army which was battling terrorism head on.

The session was adjourned until 5:00 pm following the defence minister's briefing.

Lawmakers arrive at Parliament

Speaking to reporters before the start of the session, Awami National League (AML) leader Sheikh Rasheed remarked that the decision to send Pakistani troops was up to Army chief General Raheel Sharif.

“If Saudi Arabia faces difficult times, every single Pakistani child will stand with them,” he said

Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Khald Maqbool Siddiqui said that his party opposes sending Pakistani soldiers to Saudi Arabia.

He said that Pakistan should instead play the role of a mediator in resolving the conflict in Yemen.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are the kind of friends that have stood the test of time and have helped each other in their hour of need.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Taj Haider said that third world countries cannot bear the burden of war.

Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) leader Chaudhry Pervez Elahi said his party has a very clear policy on the matter

“Saudi Arabia has helped Pakistan in difficult times; not only in war time but also when the earthquake hit Pakistan. Pakistan should also help Saudi Arabia in their hour of need,” said Elahi.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, who led the delegation to Riyadh, said last week that 1000 Pakistani troops are already in Saudi Arabia, but parliament will decide what role Pakistan should play in Yemen conflict.

A statement from the PM’s office last week said that any breach of Saudi “territorial integrity” would meet a “strong response” from Pakistan. It also condemned “actions by non-state actors in Yemen to overthrow a legitimate government”.