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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Debate in NA over Karachi, Quetta massacres

From the Newspaper | Raja Asghar

Interior Minister Rehman Malik.—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: As Interior Minister Rehman Malik promised to come up with a detailed ‘fact sheet’ on Wednesday, fingers were pointed at the Punjab government in the National Assembly on Tuesday over its perceived patronage of banned groups responsible for terrorist massacres like those of Karachi and Quetta.

During a debate on Sunday’s massive bomb attack at a Shia neighbourhood in Karachi that killed 48 people, there were demands for explanations by law-enforcement agencies at a joint session of parliament, over which both the government and opposition had agreed after a second similar attack in Quetta last month, but it has not been called yet.

Mr Malik, in a preliminary response to some remarks about him by opposition speakers at the start of the debate, said he would speak in detail and “place a fact sheet before you” while winding up the debate on Wednesday without engaging in any “blame game”.

But the so-called “blame game” had already begun as two members of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, while speaking on the admissibility of an adjournment motion tabled by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement seeking the debate, blamed the Pakistan People’s Party-led coalition government for the prevailing law and order situation — though their senior colleague Khawaja Mohammad Asif called it a collective national shame — and the treasury benches turned their guns at the Punjab government for alleged links with banned groups like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.

Such allegations have been denied by the Punjab government in the past, but no-one did it in the National Assembly on Tuesday except for some hot exchanges with the PPP’s Minister of State for Interior, Imtiaz Safdar Warraich, who first took up the cudgels for his party by referring to such a liaison in response to attacks from PML-N’s Sheikh Rohale Asghar and Chaudhry Birjees Tahir.

PML-N benches later became empty when speakers from coalition partners, including Education and Training Minister Sheikh Waqqas Akram and Defence Production Minister Sardar Bahadur Khan Sehar of the PML-Q, blasted the Punjab government.

However, in a simultaneous sitting of the Senate, PML-N Senator Pervez Rashid, while speaking on a point of order, dismissed unspecified statements of the interior minister alleging a deal between the Punjab government and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and asked him to adopt a responsible attitude rather than one that he said could cause problems for Pakistan with “a certain meaning of his statements taken in London, America and Delhi”.

But Mr Malik, who said he had cancelled a visit to Afghanistan for Tuesday because of the situation at home, was not so outspoken about the PML-N in his lower house speech and called for a joint planning of “our role” with the Punjab government.

“People ask ‘is Lashkar-i-Jhangvi a monster or a superpower’ against which we could do nothing,” the minister remarked, and, addressing the Punjab government, said: “Let us sit together, in a closed room, (to decide) whom we have to catch and whom not to spare. Let us work together, let us talk about the security of the country.” But he regretted the alleged role of the Punjab police in reportedly preventing the removal of flags of a banned group and a picture of its leader from a hoarding in the Punjab town of Jhang.

That allegation was repeated by Minister Waqqas Akram who said he had bought the advertisement hoarding to his home town in order to remove the objectionable flags and pictures, but the armed provincial police prevented this from happening in what he saw as “a small but shameful act” of state or police patronage. “If you can’t remove a flag and one picture from a board, you can’t fight a war against terrorism.”

Initiating the debate, Wasim Akhtar of the MQM, which left the PPP-led governments at the centre and in Sindh only last month but continues to have its governor in the province, regretted what he saw as a failure of the authorities to take notice of warnings by his party leader Altaf Hussain as well as of the interior minister about feared “Talibanisation of Karachi” and said: “We have now lost confidence in the government and are left with no option but arrange our own protection.”

Addressing his remarks to President Asif Ali Zardari, he said: “I ask the supreme commander ‘why you are not taking action (when) you have the powers’.”

PML-N’s Khawaja Asif said that while repeated massacres of Shias and what he called “cleansing” had “made our heads as a nation hang in shame”, the situation had not only worsened but become “worst” in five years since 2008. But he said he expected little improvement or any use of a joint session of parliament when the present assembly and the government were left with only 10 days of their terms, and wished the next assembly and the government to come up to people’s aspirations.

Noor Alam Khan, a PPP member from Peshawar, said he thought Punjab rulers’ “hands are stained” with the blood of victims of terrorism because of their alleged support for the banned groups as evident from what he called some provincial ministers “roaming with terrorists”. He called for the adoption of a resolution by the house on whether “we go for negotiations or go for an operation” against terrorist groups.

Himayatullah Mehyar of the government-allied Awami National Party said everybody knew about the existence of “terrorist centres” such as the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba based in Muridke and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi in Jhang while some operated from occupied ANP offices in Karachi, and added that law-enforcement agencies had a constitutional obligation to act against such organisations.

PML-Q’s minister Sardar Mehar wondered why there should be no operation against terrorist hideouts in Punjab while law and order was a provincial responsibility and said all political forces and law-enforcement agencies had to get together to save the country from fundamentalism and to bring it back to what he called secular path envisioned by the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

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