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The royal rumble: In-camera briefing turns into brawl

By Shabbir Mir

GILGIT: The conference room of Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly turned into a battleground after lawmakers from government and opposition parties attacked each other with teacups and notepads on Thursday.

The violence occurred during an in-camera briefing organised by the government to discuss the removal of a tax rebate which the region benefited from for decades. This issue has resulted in transport and traders strikes in the region over the past two months. Lawmakers walked out of the assembly session on Wednesday to join the Anti-Tax Movement as it has come to be known.

The briefing was arranged on the directives of speaker Fida Nashad who had promised a debate regarding the issue a day earlier.

Storm in a teacup

According to insiders, unpleasantness commenced when Nawaz Khan Naji, a lawmaker from the opposition, shouted at Minister for Food and Agriculture Janbaz Khan for repeatedly interrupting lawmakers while they were speaking on the tax issue. “Janbaz responded by hitting Naji with a teacup,” the insider told The Express Tribune.

“Supporting Naji, Islami Tehreek Pakistan lawmaker Muhammad Shafi stood up and shouted at the minister prompting Minister for Works Dr Iqbal to stand up for Janbaz,” the source revealed.

During the fight, a misdirected empty cup hit senior minister Akbar Taban while a notepad hit Adviser to G-B Chief Minister Abid Baig on the face. A ruckus followed Shafi’s exit from the room, cursing at the ministers as he left.

“Who the hell is he to stop me from expressing my viewpoint?” Shafi yelled outside the room, where police, journalists and employees of the assembly had gathered in panic – and in a rush to see what was unfolding. “Mein us ko dekhoun ga,” he huffed, which loosely translates to “I’ll take care of him”.

Baig, who was attempting to placate Shafi, lost his spectacles which fell on the floor and shattered.

However, the issue was settled soon afterwards when warring lawmakers were brought back into the conference room and were forced to shake hands with each other. Baig, expressing satisfaction at the turn of events said, “This was highly unfortunate but I am glad it is settled now.”

The session proceedings took place in the absence of the chief minister who was on a visit to Naltar Valley with the force commander.

On track: 80% development targets met, says G-B minister

Briefing lawmakers of the G-B Assembly on Thursday, Minister for Works Dr Muhammad Iqbal said 80% targets set for the initial 100 days had been achieved.

Speaking on the floor of the house, Iqbal said 12 megawatts of electricity was added to the system over 100 days – the target was 17.5MW. He said the target for road repair and construction was 65 kilometres. “We repaired 80 kilometres across G-B,” Iqbal said.

“Overall achievement stands at 80% which I think is decent progress,” said Iqbal who was assigned the task by G-B Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman. He was responding to questions from the opposition benches during assembly proceedings.

Imran Nadeem, the lone lawmaker from PPP, appreciated the achievement, but said targets should have been set after consultation with the opposition benches.

Leader of the Opposition Shah Baig and Parliamentary Secretary of Agriculture Haider Khan expressed their reservations over the process of shortlisting staff in the donor-funded project International Fund for Agricultural Development. IFAD is meant to boost agriculture. Haider complained about the lack of cooperation by secretaries and asked the speaker to take notice of it.

Deputy Speaker Jaffarullah expressed his concern over the firing of staff in the local government and asked the relevant authorities to ensure their pension.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2016.


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