The National Assembly session to decide the fate of Prime Minister Imran Khan has resumed after a two-hour delay. The session was originally adjourned till 12:30pm but was seemingly delayed as opposition and government members held meetings.
NA Speaker Asad Qaiser was chairing today’s session which began at 10:30am sharp, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directives, and with the recitation of the Holy Quran. It was followed by the national anthem and prayers for the recently deceased mother of MNA Shazia Sobia.
However, Amjad Ali Khan Niazi chaired the session for a brief period as the session resumed after the adjournment before Qaiser returned.
Voting on the no-confidence motion against the prime minister is the fourth item on the day’s agenda. While the opposition came out in full force, very few members of the treasury benches were in attendance before the session was adjourned. Prime Minister Imran Khan was also not present.
The opposition needs the support of at least 172 lawmakers from a total of 342 to oust the premier through the no-trust move.
A meeting was held between the treasury and opposition benches in the speaker’s chamber after the session was adjourned, where the latter called for holding proceedings according to the Supreme Court’s directives.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and PTI leader Amir Dogar participated from the government’s side while Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Rana Sanaullah, Ayaz Sadiq, Naveed Qamar and Maulana Asad Mahmood represented the opposition.
Following this, a meeting of the opposition’s parliamentary group was called at the opposition leader’s chamber. PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique, speaking in the NA after the adjournment, said that the speaker had promised that voting would be held after Iftar.
Separately, the government filed a review petition against the apex court’s decision to set aside the deputy speaker’s April 3 ruling.
‘Pakistan is a sovereign state’
As the session began after adjournment, FM Qureshi took the floor once again and lambasted the fact that lawmakers switched their loyalties for material gain.
“Are those powers who have sworn to uphold the Constitution not seeing this bazaar?” he asked, adding that the nation was well aware of how votes were bought and sold during last year’s Senate elections.
“We raised objections […] we presented those videos in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). The PTI kept knocking on the ECP’s doors for a year. After this struggle, the arguments were concluded. [But] despite the lapse of a year, the judgement is reserved and we have not gotten justice,” he lamented.
The foreign minister also said that “blatant attempts” for changing the regime were not hidden. Striking a philosophical note, he said that man was temporary but facts could not be suppressed. “History will expose those who have run this entire drama […] the pen of the historian does not forgive anyone.”
Qureshi said that the prime minister had called on the nation to decide whether they would live as a sovereign state or would remain slaves.
“Pakistan is standing at the crossroads of history. The nation has to decide whether we will live with our heads bowed or with our heads held high,” he said.
Acknowledging that today may perhaps be his last day as foreign minister, Qureshi said he wanted to take the house into confidence. He maintained that the process for the prime minister’s Russia visit was set in motion two months before it was scheduled.
The prime minister decided to go after consulting with officials, he said, adding that the prime objective behind it was to benefit Pakistan.
“We called and consulted Pakistan’s seasoned diplomats, academics and some media persons at PM House regarding the pros and cons of undertaking the visit. it was decided with mutual consultation that it would be in Pakistan’s interest to go ahead with it.
“We are a sovereign state. We do not want to bear the yoke of slavery,” he said. He also stated that prior to the visit, the US national security adviser (NSA) called his Pakistani counterpart with one message: Don’t go. Qureshi questioned how a sovereign state could be stopped from a bilateral visit in this manner.
He added that once the decision to go was made, Pakistan decided to give its input on the Ukraine war. “Pakistan is a country that believes in the United Nations charter and self-determination and we have never supported the use of force. We reiterated that in the UN General Assembly and when the American NSA gave us the message.”
He also highlighted how Pakistani citizens were evacuated from Ukraine as the Russian invasion began. “We made what efforts [we could]. There was talk of humanitarian assistance, I sent it myself.”
Qureshi also talked about the recently held meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
“The Afghan issue, the Kashmir issue and the Ukraine issue were raised […] we built consensus among 57 countries of the Islamic ummah,” he noted, saying that the Islamabad Declaration would go down in history.
Talking about the “threat letter”, the foreign minister noted how the opposition had termed it to be fake while PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz had alleged it was drafted in the Foreign Office.
“This is a very big claim. I am fasting and I am saying with God as my witness that we were not lying but presenting the facts to the nation. The document that I received and read was authentic,” he said, calling on the opposition to not question the professionalism of seasoned diplomats.
“If the opposition members still have questions about that document, I will give a briefing in parliament. Let’s go for an in-camera session and let the ambassador to the US tell us whether he stands by what he sent.
“Is it not a threat if you are told that there will be very bad consequences if you do not desist, that Pakistan will be forgiven if the no-confidence motion is passed but will be isolated if the motion fails?”
He stated that Pakistan had long-standing relations with the US. “We want to have good relations with them, our objective is not to spoil [relations]. But the US wants Pakistan to offer support on all issues important to them,” he said.
The minister also talked about India’s “accidental” fire of a missile into Pakistan. “There was no loss of life but when we asked them for an explanation, they said it was accidental. Will India tell this to the UN Security Council (UNSC)?”
Qureshi said he had written to the UNSC and said the accidental fire could have led to an “accidental war”. “It is such a dangerous game that India has played. Where were the standard operating procedures and the protocols?”
Talking about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he said that the PTI government felt that this was a project that would enhance regional connectivity and lift millions of people out of poverty.
He stated that PTI government’s foreign policy called for good relations with every country and to increase Pakistan’s diplomatic space.
“We want good relations with everyone and don’t want to be hostile with any country. That has been our policy,” he said.
He recalled how the PPP talked about the sovereignty and supremacy of parliament, adding that he was in agreement with them. He went on to say that the deputy speaker’s ruling had the “concept of finality”, the rejection of which would open up a pandora’s box.
Qureshi also noted how the opposition had alleged that the ambassador to the US was abruptly transferred so that he could escape questions.
“He completed his three-year tenure on January 11 and we were making a new posting plan for Brussels. Why was I sending him to Brussels? Because he is a seasoned and polished diplomat.”
He rejected the claims that the “threat letter” was fake, adding that the meeting in Washington took place on March 7.
“On March 8, the no-confidence motion was submitted against the prime minister. Look at how these things coincided,” he said, calling for holding an in-camera session.
Turning to the opposition, he said that they had been calling for elections for the last three-and-a-half years. “They said the elections were not fair and said that Imran Khan was selected. Now when the prime minister said let’s hold elections and see what the nation wants, they are not ready for it,” he said, calling for the nation to decide.
He called on lawmakers to not push Pakistan into a constitutional crisis and to go for fresh elections. ‘Why are you scared of the nation?” he asked the opposition benches. He added that all of the nation’s political parties were on one side while PM Imran was on the other.
Bilawal holds Qureshi responsible for PM’s troubles
Bilawal began by telling Niazi he was violating the Constitution and the court’s orders. “You cannot take up anything else except for what is on the agenda. Not only you, the speaker also did the same,” he told him, demanding that voting is held on the no-confidence motion.
At this, Niazi told the PPP chairman that the court can’t intervene in parliamentary matters. Bilawal replied by saying that Niazi would be disqualified for violating the law, adding that this was not the first time the court had set aside the speaker’s ruling.
Turning his guns on PM Imran, Bilawal said that the premier was breaking the law on his way out of office. “If you want to be involved in it, then it’s your choice. But I had warned the prime minister to stay away from the man speaking before me,” he said, referring to the foreign minister.
The PPP chairman alleged that FM Qureshi was responsible for the premier’s troubles, again calling for voting to be held on the no-confidence motion. “If you don’t come to today’s agenda, then you should know that the opposition will not leave […] we will snatch our constitutional rights from you.”
He said that the government had lost its majority in the assembly. “We can debate on the foreign conspiracy for 100 days but first conduct voting.”
Bilawal alleged that the government had told several lies in this whole saga. The supposed conversation took place on March 7 and the no-confidence was presented on March 8, he noted.
“But there is a time difference between Pakistan and America which means that the no-trust move was presented as the conversation was underway.”
He claimed that those who were advising the prime minister were only thinking about themselves. “They will land him in trouble.” He also called the premier out for being absent during today’s session.
Once again turning his guns on Qureshi, Bilawal questioned why the foreign minister was not present for the National Security Committee meeting. He also questioned why the statement issued after the meeting did not mention the no-trust motion. “It just included a decision to issue a demarche.”
Bilawal said that if there was a conspiracy against the government, PM Imran should have taken action immediately. He maintained that the current battle was not between the PTI, the PPP or the PDM, rather between those who upheld the Constitution and those who disregarded it.
The PPP chairman added that PM Imran was “scared of fair and free elections”. The prime minister knows that he will be defeated in the same way he was defeated in the by-elections, Bilawal thundered, adding that the prime minister could not be Zulfikar Ali Bhutto no matter how hard he tried.
He said that the opposition wanted to oust the government in a “democratic way”. “This is the only legal and democratic means to dismiss the government,” he said, adding that the NA belonged to the people of Pakistan.
Talking about the government’s claims of horse-trading, he asked how much money the foreign minister took each time he switched alliances. “Ninety per cent of the faces on the treasury benches are turncoats.”
He added that PM Imran had divided the house, the judiciary, the establishment and the entire country. “The prime minister should show sportsmanship. He is the first captain who is running away from the pitch after taking away the wicket.”
Zardari calls for voting on no-trust motion
In his speech, former president Asif Ali Zardari began by saying that he never wanted to make personal attacks. He lamented the recent devaluation of the rupee and highlighted how the central bank had increased interest rates.
“I just want to make a request to hold voting on the no-confidence motion. Don’t waste time.” He said that the stock market rose after the apex court issued its verdict while the dollar also fell, once again calling on the speaker to hold the vote.
“I don’t want to go to the court against you tomorrow. We have to live in Pakistan. We have to maintain links with every political party. So hold the vote and end this. Let’s move forward so that Pakistan can prosper,” he told Qaiser.
This prompted the NA speaker to say that he would implement the court’s directive in “true spirit”.
Shehbaz calls on Qaiser to follow SC’s orders
Taking the floor shortly after the session initially began, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif hailed Thursday as a historic day in the country’s history when the apex court rejected the deputy speaker’s ruling. According to the PML-N leader, the SC decision had made Pakistan’s future “bright”.
He called on Qaiser to conduct proceedings in accordance with the SC’s directives, stating that parliament would be writing history today. “Today, parliament is going to defeat a selected prime minister in a constitutional manner,” he declared.
Shehbaz told the speaker to let bygones be bygones and to stand for the law and the Constitution. He urged the speaker to play his role and to have his name “written in history in golden words”.
“You must cash in on this moment with conviction and with your heart and your mind. Don’t go off of the dictation of a selected prime minister,” he urged Qaiser, adding that the apex court’s directives were clear.
Responding to Shehbaz’s earnest plea, Qaiser assured the opposition leader that he would conduct proceedings according to the law and the Constitution.
“[But] the important thing is that there has been talk of an international conspiracy. This should also be discussed,” he said, as the hall echoed with protests from the opposition benches.
This prompted Shehbaz to tell the Qaiser that he would be violating the court’s directives if he would go down that road. He also read out the court’s directives regarding the convening of the session.
“Under the court’s directives, you are bound to take up this agenda item and no other item. That is the intent of the order and you cannot deviate from it,” he said, calling on the speaker to hold voting on the motion forthwith.
“The SC’s orders will be followed in true letter and spirit,” Qaiser replied, giving the floor to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Qureshi says will fight no-trust motion in ‘constitutional, democratic manner’
The foreign minister began by acknowledging that the opposition had the right to table a no-trust motion against the prime minister but said that defending it was his obligation. “We intend to fight it in a constitutional, political and democratic manner,” he asserted.
Talking about constitutional violations, he said that it was obligatory “on us to respect the Constitution”. “As the prime minister said yesterday, he is disappointed but has accepted the court’s decision,” Qureshi said, referring to PM Imran’s late-night address on Friday.
Qureshi said there had been many examples of constitutional violations in Pakistan’s history. “Constitutional violations, unfortunately, have been a part of our history.”
He said a major example of a constitutional violation from recent history pertained to October 12, 1999, when PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s government was toppled as a result of a military coup.
“The nation is a witness to the fact that the Constitution was violated on October 12, 2009. And when the case was presented before the apex court … history is witness, that not only justifications were made but permission was also given for an amendment to the Constitution,” he said.
Qureshi noted that Pakistan Democratic Movement chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had said they would not accept any ruling based on the doctrine of necessity, even before the SC had issued its verdict and while the matter was sub-judice.
The minister went on to say that the doctrine of necessity should have been buried, voicing his happiness at the “evolution” of Pakistan’s democracy. “I am happy that Pakistan’s democracy has evolved and that we all are not ready to take its (doctrine of necessity) support.”
Qureshi also presented the stance of the prime minister, saying that he was disappointed but respected the court’s orders. He added that NA proceedings were being conducted in accordance with the directives issued by the court.
“Today is Saturday and the session has started at 10:30am. The court said the session will not be prorogued unless the process of Article 95 and rule 37 is concluded.”
However, it is important to present the context under which the court directed to summon the session again, he added. He said that the clock was turned back and the apex court unanimously dismissed the April 3 ruling.
The minister said that the prime minister went to the people by dissolving the assembly, adding that the opposition had been calling for early polls for close to four years.
“He (prime minister) said let’s go to the people and let them decide in whose hands they want to see Pakistan’s future.”
He reiterated that the government had accepted the court’s decision but questioned why the opposition parties went to the court and why the SC took suo motu notice. “The ruling the deputy speaker gave when he was chairing the session […] he did not reject the constitutional process. He said a new situation had surfaced and that it should be probed in its light.”
Qureshi added that the National Security Committee (NSC), one of the country’s top forums, had seen the cable — purportedly containing evidence of a foreign plot against the government — and concluded that it was a sensitive matter.
“The NSC took two decisions. First, they acknowledged there was interference in Pakistan’s internal matters and that a demarche must be issued,” he said, adding that the Foreign Office followed these directives.
“The second was to immediately summon the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and for the matter to be presented before elected representatives,” he said, adding that the opposition was also invited.
At this point, the opposition benches started protesting and shouting which led the minister to ask why they were “nervous”. Amid the commotion, the speaker adjourned the session till 12:30pm.
Opposition holds parliamentary committee meeting
Lawmakers began arriving at Parliament House ahead of the session while television footage showed tight security arrangements in place in the capital. The united opposition also held a meeting of its parliamentary group that was chaired by PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif and attended by 176 lawmakers.
Despite the impression that the PTI has lost its majority in the lower house, the ruling party is still adamant that it would not leave the field open for the opposition and has vowed to make things as difficult for them as they can, be it creating hurdles in the voting procedure or preventing the election of opposition nominee Shehbaz Sharif as the new leader of the house.
Ahead of the session, on Friday, PM Imran had presided over a meeting of the party’s parliamentary group.
Meanwhile, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has said the government would present the “threatening” cable — purportedly containing evidence of a foreign plot against the government — or its contents in the assembly and will ask the speaker for a debate on the issue.
Speaking to ARY News on Friday night, he was of the opinion that even though the vote of no confidence was on the agenda, voting would likely not take place today. He said that while the SC had instructed voting to be held in the session called on April 9, that didn’t mean it would have to be on the same date.
No-trust motion commotion
The joint opposition — primarily the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and the PPP — had submitted the no-confidence motion against the premier with the NA Secretariat on March 8.
In the days to follow, the country’s political landscape was abuzz with activity as parties and individuals changed alliances and the PTI and opposition were seen trading barbs and allegations alongside intensifying efforts to ensure their success in the no-confidence contest.
Eventually, major allies of the ruling PTI — Balochistan Awami Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan — deserted the government and joined the opposition ranks which led to PM Imran losing his majority in the lower house of parliament.
In addition, over a dozen PTI dissident MNAs have already come into the open with their criticism on the government policies, indicating that they might support the opposition’s no-trust motion even at the cost of being disqualified as NA members.
For its part, the PTI has managed to secure the support of another one of its key allies, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), as Usman Buzdar stepped down as the Punjab chief minister in favour of the PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who the ruling party announced as its candidate for the province’s new chief executive.
However, one of the many twists in the saga emerged when PM Imran claimed to have evidence of a “foreign conspiracy” to oust his government. At the PTI’s rally on March 27, the premier had pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and waved it at the crowd, claiming it was evidence of an “international conspiracy” being hatched to topple his government.
The PTI accused the opposition of being part of the foreign plot and tried to turn the tide in its favour by disclosing some of the details in the “threat letter” to journalists and lawmakers.
Separately, after a few delays, the National Assembly finally convened on April 3 to vote on the no-trust motion against the premier. In a “surprise” move, the opposition submitted a similar motion against the speaker which led to the deputy speaker chairing the session.
However, the PTI would prove to be five steps ahead of the opposition as Suri dismissed the motion, saying it was part of a foreign conspiracy to oust PM Imran, after Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry spoke on a point of order, citing Article 5 of the Constitution, which mandates loyalty to the state for every citizen.
Within minutes of the pandemonium that broke out, PM Imran appeared on television to announce that he had advised the president to dissolve the lower house of parliament and called on the people to prepare for fresh elections.
The government’s move also led to the Supreme Court taking suo motu notice of the deputy speaker’s ruling with Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial stating that all orders and actions initiated by the prime minister and president regarding the dissolution of the National Assembly would be subject to the court’s order. Meanwhile, opposition parties also filed pleas questioning the legality of Suri’s ruling.
What followed were five days of marathon hearings where the court heard arguments from the government and the opposition. At the same time, the PTI began its preparations for the next elections, insisting on the existence of a foreign conspiracy behind the no-confidence motion.
On Thursday night, the apex court — in a historic ruling — set aside Suri’s ruling and the subsequent dissolution of the assembly by the president on the PM’s advice, with all five judges unanimously voting 5-0 against it.
The court’s verdict also restored the prime minister and his cabinet in their position and directed for the session of the National Assembly to reconvene on Saturday (today) no later than 10:30am. saying that the session cannot be prorogued without the conclusion of the no-trust motion against PM Imran.