Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is asking for more legal and other options from his ministers at the emergency Cabinet meeting on Saturday, sources told CNN-News18.
Pakistan’s Parliament started its crucial session to take up the no-confidence resolution against defiant Prime Minister Imran Khan amid indications that the no-trust motion against him could be delayed after the government pressed for a discussion on the so-called “foreign conspiracy” against it.
The National Assembly session to decide the fate of Prime Minister Imran Khan via voting on a no-confidence motion against him stands adjourned yet again. It was expected to resume at 9:30pm after Isha prayers but appears to have been delayed.
The current adjournment was the fourth of the day as the opposition's clamour for immediate voting throughout the day have fallen on deaf ears amid lengthy speeches delivered from treasury members on the floor of the house.
NA Speaker Asad Qaiser was chairing the session when it began at 10:30am sharp in the morning, 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 when it resumed after the first adjournment before Qaiser returned. The post-Iftar session was again chaired by Niazi.
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 for the first time in the day, 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 sent a review petition to the apex court against its decision to set aside the deputy speaker's April 3 ruling. The petition, however, is yet to be filed since the officers of the court did not process it on receipt as they close early in Ramazan. According to the PTI's counsel Azhar Siddique, it will be processed on Monday.
'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".
'Govt has lost mandate'
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F's) Maulana Asad Mehmood said that the government wanted to sabotage the country's politics, the Constitution and the parliament by using the "threat letter".
He questioned why the government did not present the "threat letter" to lawmakers in parliament. "Why did you use the letter to break the law and dismiss the no-confidence motion?"
He claimed that the government had lost the mandate as well as the support of its allies and lawmakers. He said that PM Imran was fighting for himself and not the nation, adding that the government was lying about the NSC meeting.
He claimed the speaker no longer had any more excuses to delay the vote and called on him to accept his defeat.
‘Opposition is a part of US conspiracy’
Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari's speech revolved around the alleged US influence on Pakistani politics. "It is this nation's misfortune that America has always been successful in [changing] the leaders of Pakistan."
She recalled that the opposition was invited to check the 'threat letter' that according to government is 'proof' of a foreign-funded conspiracy.
“But I know why you did not come ... because you're a part of that conspiracy, which clearly states that 'if you will oust Imran Khan and no-confidence vote is successful, then the nation will be forgiven.
"What will be forgiven? What crime has Pakistan done? An independent foreign policy? Who the hell is America to forgive us? And for what crime? For God's sake have some shame. This is America's old ways. In the 1950s, America and UK conspired to oust Iranian leader Musaddik — who was a democratic leader.”
She said America has either ousted democratic leaders or assassinated them and has installed dictatorship in countries.
“A few days ago, [US President Joe] Biden went to Poland and said 'remove Putin and bring regime change'. This is America's way."
Mazari said the ECP's statement of not being able to hold elections, too, was a part of this conspiracy.
Following Mazari's speech, the session was initially adjourned for a 20-minute Asar prayers break, following which another adjournment was taken till 7:30pm due to Iftar break.
Shehbaz demands immediate voting as session adjourned again
Once the session resumed, Shehbaz demanded the speaker to cut to the chase and immediate hold voting. "This special session has been held today under Supreme Court's orders," he said. "We heard their speeches for three hours. Speaker ... let the vote of no-confidence take place.
"You are under the orders of the Supreme Court to chair this session just for one item, which is to proceed for voting. If you will no abide by the order, then you would further spoil this parliament's respect. We have been here since morning and you keep adjourning on one excuse or another."
Following Energy Minister Hammad Azhar's rebuttal, the session was adjourned for the fourth time.
PTI submits references against dissidents to NA speaker
Amid the crucial NA proceedings, the PTI submitted references against its 20 dissident members to the NA speaker. The references were sent by the prime minister and handed over to Qaiser by the PTI's chief whip in the NA, Amir Dogar.
The references were filed under Article 63-A of the Constitution, which suggests disqualification on grounds of defection for not obeying the parliamentary party's directions in the election of the prime minister, chief minister or vote of confidence or no confidence or money bill etc.
The text of the references said that the dissidents were exposed via "large-scale broadcast and videos" to have left the PTI, joined the opposition for the no-trust motion against the prime minister and no denials or rebuttals were issued to the apparent acts of defection.
The references stated that show-cause notices were sent to the dissidents to clarify why declarations to de-seat them from the NA should not be issued against them but the individuals failed to respond to them or clarify their position.
The text said that the members had failed to adhere to their "sacred duty" and had deceived the confidence of the party, the voters and the public by changing their loyalties to another party and caused "irreparable loss to the democratic system ... and blatantly injured the cause and object of the PTI".
The speaker was requested to initiate proceedings to de-seat the members since they were held to have defected from the PTI under Article 63-A. According to the text, sufficient material was available to hold that the members had exhibited a "change of loyalty" by joining another party and willfully defied the PTI's trust and policy and violated their oath.
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.