-Senate holds heated debate over Corona combat, 18th Amendment
By Uzma Zafar
ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday stated in clear terms that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led federal government doesn’t want to completely roll back the 18th Amendment.
Speaking in the Senate, he said the government doesn’t aim to do away with the constitutional amendment but its “weak points should be reviewed and addressed.”
“We don’t have a two-thirds majority to bring any change, why are you afraid,” the foreign minister said, pointing to opposition senators. He took the opposition to task over criticism of the government for a delay in convening a session of the house, saying it was because of lack of consensus in the opposition that the session got delayed.
Qureshi said even PPP’s Saleem Mandviwalla, the deputy chairperson of the senate, doesn’t support the move to call a session of the house, asking the party to first develop consensus in its own ranks. Speaking about the coronavirus situation, he hoped the country would succeed in its efforts to defeat the pandemic.
“There is no doubt that uncertainty prevails because of the coronavirus. Even stable economies [the world over] are reeling from the pandemic,” the foreign minister pointed out, warning that a recession will follow the global health crisis. He predicted the global economy is going to shrink by 3 per cent. Defending the government’s decision to ease lockdown restrictions, he said 18 million people would have lost their jobs if the government had extended the lockdown. He said the country’s export witnessed a 40 per cent decline.
He said Prime Minister Imran Khan holds meetings and give directions on a daily basis to cope with the current situation of Covid-19. He asked the opposition parties not to do politics on the pandemic. The foreign minister said the situation is very serious in occupied Kashmir. He said that the BJP government had intensified its persecution campaign in the occupied territory as the Indian forces have started barging into houses of Kashmiris and killing the innocent and armless Kashmiri people under the garb of coronavirus.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Tuesday demanded that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi retract his statement accusing the Sindh government of fanning provincialism. “When I talk about Sindh, they accuse me of playing the Sindh card. But when I talk about Balochistan or KP or Gilgit-Baltistan, they don’t accuse me of playing the provincial card?
“I want that minister (Qureshi) to take back his statement. If he can’t take it back, then I demand his resignation. Unacceptable!” said Bilawal at a press conference that was held hours after the Senate session ended. The PPP chairman was responding to comments made by Qureshi during a special Senate session to debate the government’s policy on the Covid-19 pandemic.
Qureshi — who earlier heard stinging criticism of the PTI-led government on the floor of the House by Senator Sherry Rehman — had lashed out at the PPP benches, saying that a party which once “stood for the federation now reeks of provincialism” and rejected claims that the Centre had left Sindh on its own amidst the pandemic.
“This is not the PPP of the past, which was a symbol of the federation. Today, I sense the roots of provincialism in the party,” the foreign minister said.
“Karachi is as much ours as it is yours. Sindh is ours. Sindh’s capital is ours; even now the people of Karachi support PTI and our allied party MQM,” he said, and told PPP senators in the legislature to “get ready” as the PTI would also make inroads in Sindh, “just like we did in Punjab and KP”. Bilawal called the foreign minister’s comments a “slap on the face”.
“We want to save our country and this man is talking about proving political mettle in Sindh? Not everything is about politics. We should avoid playing up these debates during a global health crisis. “My efforts are in front of the people. When I got the chance yesterday [during the National Assembly session], I put forward my view in front of the people, and look at how we were abused in return. It’s sad.”
Bilawal also took the opportunity to criticise Prime Minister Imran Khan for his absence in yesterday’s NA session. “PM Imran should have attended and explained his point of view because he is the leader of the government […] he want workers, labourers to go to work but will not step outside to fulfil his basic duty.”
Earlier, Sindh government spokesperson Murtaza Wahab had also responded to Qureshi’s comment, saying it was actually the federal government that “reeks of prejudice”. Addressing a press conference in Karachi, Wahab said the PTI-led federal government always talked “negatively”.
“I want to give a reply to the champions who talk negatively about the 18th Amendment. When National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD) was devolved to the Sindh government in 2011, it was only on Rafeequi Shaheed Road and its budget was Rs700 million. The Sindh government established satellite centres of the institute in several cities and its budget after the 18th Amendment is Rs11 billion. People from all over Pakistan come to get treated there,” he said.
He questioned whether the PTI — which has been in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the last seven years — could boast of even one such hospital where people of Sindh could go and receive quality treatment for free.
Wahab claimed that the federal government had put on a “lens of prejudice and was unwilling to take it off”.
“Take the example of Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT). 8,500 people benefited from treatment at the hospital in the last year. These people were from all over Pakistan and even Pakistanis living abroad who came here to get treatment. We gave land for the Indus Hospital where thousands of people are treated for free,” he said, listing the provincial government’s achievements.
“The Centre does not give even a rupee for any of these health institutes. People from all over Pakistan and even those living abroad are treated here which proves we do not believe in provincialism. Our vision is to serve,” Wahab added. He questioned why Prime Minister Imran did not visit Sindh since the pandemic began. “He goes to all the provinces but he does not come here. Tell us, then who is biased?” Wahab asked. “We have offered them again and again to work together. Just because you have conflicts with [Sindh government] doesn’t mean you can undermine all [our] good work.”