The Senate convened on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to debate the law and order situation after the Supreme Court’s acquittal of Aasia Bibi in the blasphemy case against her.
Before the debate formally began, Minister of IT Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui filed a motion to withdraw proposed amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act on behalf of the government, which was approved by the house.
The minister argued that the bill had been authored on the directives of deposed Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui and it was therefore proper that the government re-examine it.
Right after, the opposition pushed for a debate on Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) nationwide protests.
“We do not want the state and Constitution to be sullied like this,” the PPP’s Parliamentary Leader, Senator Sherry Rehman said.
“The entire nation was at a standstill for three days. If we start to examine [what happened], they [the government] will say ‘This was also done before; the state entered a similar agreement last year as well,” she continued.
“[But] what happened this time is a grave tragedy. We are not here to taunt and challenge the government — enough of that was done on the streets for [those] three days.
“[But] Our army chief was called out by name. The judiciary, the state and the army were dragged [into the mess]: what kind of message is being sent with these actions?” she asked.
“The government was all talk and no action. This was the first time we’ve heard the state challenged like this. How can this challenge be ignored?”
“We will not politic on this: the PPP has always toed the patriotic line in times like these. [However,] we will demand that the state provide protection to everyone.
“The state ought to protect the judges. Whether they give right decisions or wrong ones, the state should be behind them. Those who are openly rebelling against the law and Constitution should be dealt with. This is a trying time for Pakistan: the government should not try to bypass parliament,” she concluded.
The PPP veteran also sought answers from the government over loans secured from foreign governments and foreign policy.
“The parliament was not taken into confidence on [foreign] loans,” she regretted.
“We have also promised to mediate the Yemen-Saudi Arabia dispute: on what terms will this mediation be done? We should tackle our own wars first,” she said.
The strong stance taken by the opposition against the government’s settlement with TLP leaders appears to be at odds with its own desire to resolve the matter with talks ahead of the weekend.
On Thursday, former opposition leader and PPP stalwart Khursheed Shah had condemned Prime Minister Imran Khan for taking an adversarial stance by warning protesters to not clash with the state in a televised address a day earlier.
“There was violence in his [PM Khan’s] tone. You cannot bring peace with this tone,” Shah had said.
He had been backed up by the PML-N’s former railways minister, Khawaja Saad Rafique, who had said: “We believe that Imran Khan’s body language and tone was aggressive during his address.”
Later the same day, Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif had made it clear that the opposition would not stand by the government in case of a crackdown on mobs and urged a resolution to the ongoing crisis with “political shrewdness”.
“The supremacy of the Constitution is the foundation of this country. Institutions should not be disrespected. [However,] we will not support the use of force under any situation,” Sharif had stated in clear terms.
A day later, while the government sought a joint parliamentary resolution condemning the protests, former PPP prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had reiterated that his party would not support the use of force.
“We want a resolution through dialogue,” Ashraf had said.
Meanwhile, the PML-N had refused to discuss how to tackle the issue over a tiff on the adjournment of the National Assembly due to a lack of quorum on that day.
“Given the current situation, if the government proceeds with the policy it has undertaken, it will cause things to worsen,” former PML-N defence minister Khawaja Asif had warned while calling for the National Assembly to be reconvened to discuss the matter.