ISLAMABAD: The issues of discrimination against small provinces and the alienation of Pakhtuns by the state overshadowed the legislative business of the lower house of parliament on Thursday, with the opposition benches leading a charge against a mostly-absent government.
Syed Khursheed Shah opened the opposition’s innings by asking the speaker: “Are you (the government) really treating the federation as a federation?”
The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly was referring to discrepancies in the disbursement of federal funds to MNAs.
“Out of a total pool of Rs19 billion, [MNAs from] Punjab receives around Rs10.40bn, Fata gets Rs1.1bn, Sindh Rs800 million, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Rs430m, Islamabad Rs700m and Balochistan gets a paltry Rs400m,” Mr Shah said, quoting from statistics.
“The amount the rest of the country gets is still lower than Punjab’s. Why are you toying with the federation in this way; Balochistan, Sindh and KP are already unhappy with you and as far as the Seraiki belt is concerned, I wager there won’t be many uplift schemes planned for them.”
Pointing towards the speaker, he said, “You are the custodian of this house… you can ask the government for an explanation. They should maintain some semblance of equality in this matter,” Mr Shah said.
In response, the speaker quietly referred the matter to the finance minister.
Mr Shah also took a swing at the prime minister’s kitchen-cabinet, asking, “Does anyone even tell the PM what is happening or is he still being kept in the dark?”
This line of attack was picked up again; first by the PPP’s Dr Nafisa Shah and then PTI’s Ghulam Sarwar.
Dr Shah first asked why the interior minister chose to give policy statements in press conferences rather than the floor of the house, before reminding the PM that he was elected by parliament.
“Although David Cameron is also accused of profiting from offshore companies in the Panama Papers, he is facing all questions himself in the House of Commons. But where is our PM? This is insulting to the house,” she said.
Mr Sarwar first criticised the way house business was conducted, saying that even lawmakers needed someone to intercede on their behalf in order to get a chance to speak on the floor.
Then, without naming him, he hit out at Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, saying that when parliament was in session, no minister should be allowed to hold press conferences.
Maltreatment of Pakhtuns
Although the state’s discriminatory attitude towards Pakhtuns and naturalised Afghans has repeatedly been pointed out in the house, Thursday saw animated debate on the subject, with members from nearly all parties — including the ruling PML-N — coming out in support of their Pakhtun brethren.
The matter was raised by PkMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai, who told the house that nearly 100,000 Pakhtuns had their CNICs blocked because they were thought to be Afghans. “From Sialkot to Islamabad and from Quetta to Peshawar, anyone who has a beard or anyone who wears a turban is [considered] a terrorist.”
“When a Pakhtun’s card is blocked, he can’t keep a bank account; can’t send his children to college; can’t go abroad or do business,” he said.
“I’m telling you, we are being trapped. The army is already stretched; it has one foot in Waziristan, another in Karachi and is also embroiled in Balochistan. The world doesn’t wish us well; when things come to a head, you will forget the Gadaffis and Assads of the world,” he said, ominously.
PTI’s Arif Alvi went even further, claiming that Pakhtuns in Karachi were extorted in the name of CNIC renewal and threatened with the cancellation of their cards if they didn’t pay up.
Aftab Sherpao pointed out that Afghan refugees were also being unnecessarily maltreated despite being registered under the aegis of UNHCR, saying that this was not the way civilised countries treated refugees.
ANP’s Ghulam Bilour expressed his incredulity at the double standard over immigrants. “A migrant from India can become president of the country, but Afghan refugees are treated like second-class citizens.”
JI’s Sahibzada Tariqullah also chimed in, saying that people who he knew to be citizens of Pakistan had been treated as foreigners and their CNICs were cancelled too.
From the treasury benches, Abdul Mannan of PML-N also voiced his support for naturalised Afghans, saying that several such families had been in Faisalabad for generations and had established successful businesses there, adding that he was personally prepared to vouch for such people and called on the government not to expel them summarily.