Debate on Federal Budget Begins in National Assembly Amid Calls for Action Against May 9 Vandalism

Debate on Federal Budget Begins in National Assembly Amid Calls for Action Against May 9 Vandalism

On Monday, the National Assembly of Pakistan initiated a subdued discussion on the federal budget for the upcoming financial year. The debate was launched with a speech by Opposition Leader Raja Riaz Ahmed, which left a rather unremarkable impression on the assembly. Concurrently, a resolution was adopted in the lower house, urging the government to promptly commence proceedings against individuals involved in the vandalism of military installations on May 9 under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952. 

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif moved the resolution, stating that there was clear evidence suggesting a political party and its leader were behind the attacks on the nation’s military installations, which caused significant damage to state institutions. The resolution, however, refrains from directly naming the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) or its chairman, Imran Khan. Despite this, assembly members didn’t hesitate to criticize Mr Khan in their speeches, branding the PTI as a party working against the state’s interests. 

The resolution seeks immediate action and conviction of those involved in the May 9 incidents, denouncing PTI’s claims of human rights abuses during the response to the unrest as mere propaganda. The Defence Minister emphasized in his speech that notable PTI leaders were unwilling to shoulder responsibility for the party and its chairman’s alleged actions against the nation’s interests. 

However, the sole member of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, voiced strong opposition against the proposed use of military courts for trying civilians involved in these incidents. Instead, he advocated for civil and anti-terrorism courts to adjudicate such cases. 

In a rejoinder, the Defence Minister underscored that no new legislation was needed for this purpose as existing laws sufficed. Asserting that courts had become partisan, he stated that it was the prerogative of the armed forces to counter internal and external threats. 

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During the budget debate, Raja Riaz Ahmed, the PTI dissident and Opposition Leader, expressed his disappointment over the absence of incentives for agriculture, health, and education sectors in the proposed budget. He also voiced concerns about the rising inflation and urged the restoration of the price control magistrate system, in addition to proposing a 30% increase in government employees’ pensions. 

On the other hand, PTI criticised the government for passing the resolution in the National Assembly, with PTI leader Hammad Azhar labeling the resolution supporting military courts as a ‘dark chapter’ in the history of parliamentary politics. 

Simultaneously, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance, under PPP’s Saleem Mandviwalla, began reviewing the Finance Bill 2023-24, commonly referred to as the federal budget, to draft Senate recommendations that will be forwarded to the National Assembly during the budget’s ratification. The National Assembly is scheduled to reconvene on Tuesday at 11am. 

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