ISLAMABAD: While terming it an internal matter, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Thursday subjected any action against ‘wanted’ Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed to the judiciary’s assessment of any evidence that the United States may share with Pakistan against him.
In what was termed a policy statement during the joint sitting of the parliament, the premier called the American decision of announcing a $10 million bounty for Hafiz Saeed ‘unfortunate’, especially at a time when Islamabad and Washington were trying to repair damaged ties.
“Such negative messages will increase trust deficit at a time when the parliament was engaged in framing new rules of engagement with the US,” the premier told parliamentarians after opposition MPs called this week’s American decision ‘foolish and arrogant’.
The joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate was overshadowed by the new situation emanating from Washington announcement to put a bounty on Saeed and President Asif Zardari’s plan to undertake a private visit to India this weekend.
The unusually prolonged joint parliamentary sitting was being held to approve a parliamentary panel’s report to reset war on terror ties with the US after last year’s airstrikes by NATO helicopters on two Pakistani border posts, killing a couple of dozen soldiers.
Gilani became the highest government official to join a chorus of ‘guarded’ condemnation of the US decision a day after the foreign ministry had already called for Washington to share concrete evidence against a man they believe was behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which six American had been killed among 166 people.
The move to seek the arrest of JuD chief came at the time when Pakistani parliament is struggling to cope with public pressure to reopen land routes for NATO troops stations in Afghanistan suspended four months ago.
Gilani said this development had emerged as a ‘negative message’ at a very critical point of time.
“Some positive statement should come from America–a move which may pave the way for both (Pak and US) to rebuild good relations.”
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told the house American must have shared the evidence against Saeed instead of taking a unilateral decision to put him under a bounty.
“Pakistan has an independent judiciary…if US has evidence against Saeed then it should come up with them here,” Khar added.
Earlier, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan termed the US move a mind boggling announcement, claiming there was no case or allegations against him (Hafiz Saeed).
“The issue should be debated by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security as well,” he proposed.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman sounded the harshest reaction in the house, calling the bounty ‘foolish and ridiculous’.
Meanwhile, the Chairman Parliamentary Committee on National Security Senator Raza Rabbani hinted that the bounty could be some way for the US to influence either the pace or the : “Washington announcement is ill-timed. Neither the parliament nor the panel will accept any pressure.”
Zardari’s visit to India is a private tour
Reacting to objections raised by opposition MPs, Gilani said Zardari was travelling to India in his private capacity and that his visit was not aimed at seeking any talks with leadership there.
“We are as patriotic as anybody else. We will not do anything against the country’s national interest. Nobody should have doubts about it,” the premier rebuffed opposition demands for an explanation.
The Foreign Minister further confirmed the Prime Minister’s claims saying the president’s visit to India was planned in his personal capacity and it was only out of tradition that Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had invited him for lunch as a goodwill gesture.
Gilani promised the parliament would be taken into confidence if the president discusses something substantial with the Indian prime minister.
Earlier the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) members staged a token walkout against the recently announced increase in prices of petroleum products.