Senate up in arms over bypassing Parliament

* Defence minister summoned before House * PPP’s Farhatullah asks if cases have been registered against ‘reformed asset’ Ehsanullah Ehsan

ISLAMABAD: Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani on Friday summoned Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir to appear before the Upper House on Monday to brief senators about the army’s announcement of sending troops to Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan People’s Party Senator Farhatullah Babar had raised the issue of the deployment of Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia.

Referring to the Inter-Services Public Relations’ (ISPR) announcement made on Thursday of sending troops to Saudi Arabia, Babar said that the announcement had come after a meeting between the army chief and the Saudi ambassador in Islamabad. “The decision was preceded by the COAS’ recent three-day visit — the second in two months — to Saudi Arabia where he had met Crown Prince Salman and military commanders,” he said.

Babar termed the decision “tantamount to bypassing the parliament”. He said that the number of the troops being sent was unknown, but the disclosure that it would be less than a division “indicated that almost a full-fledged army division is being sent to the kingdom”.

“On the one hand, the Yemini allies of Saudi Arabia are losing the internal political battle because of internal fighting. The air campaign and blockade by Saudi Arabia has triggered a backlash. This provides a disturbing context,” he said.

He said that the deliberately nuanced Foreign Office (FO) statements recently condemning the Houthi missile attacks as threat to the kingdom and Holy Mosques also seemed aimed at justifying sending Pakistani troops to actively engage the Yeminis in the conflict on the side of the Saudis. “Has anyone given a serious thought to its grave consequences?” he asked.

Reminding the House about the Parliament’s unanimous resolution that sought strict neutrality over the issue, he said that it was pertinent to know who was making unilateral decisions through bypassing the Parliament.

Chairman Raza Rabbani then directed that the defence minister appear before the Senate on Monday.

The chairman summoned Defence Minister Khurrum Dastagir for issuing a policy statement on the issue. The minister is expected to appear before the Senate on Monday.

Earlier, Farhatullah Babar on a supplementary question had asked why the Interior Ministry had no clue about former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan even though it was the ministry’s responsibility under the NAP.

“It took more than nine months for the Interior minister to finally admit that the civilians had no role in policymaking in fighting militants as it was dealt with by mysterious unnamed agencies. What does it prove? Isn’t Ehsan the one who had publicly claimed responsibility for several gruesome attacks on security forces, civilians and state institutions? We want to know hether cases have been registered against Ehsanullah Ehsan subsequent to his admission? And whether cases registered against Ehsanullah Ehsan will be tried in military courts. If yes, when and if not, why not?” he asked.

Senator Sirajul Haq of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) asked whether there were more TTP captives in custody of agencies besides Ehsanullah Ehsan and what was being done about them.

Minister of State for Interior Talal Chaudhry assured the senators that the TTP spokesperson involved in several terrorist incidents would not be pardoned. He said that video statements of Ehsanullah Ehsan had also been made public. “They are sufficient to prove that the departments are dealing with his case according to the law of the land. Pakistan has adopted a zero tolerance policy in the war against terrorism,” he said.

Published in Daily Times, February 17th 2018.