The schizophrenic Pakistan Peoples Party put on a rather strange show in the Sindh Assembly on Thursday, alternating between the defiant and the beleaguered.
MPA Rafiq Engineer must inhabit a parallel universe if his statement on the situation in Lyari is any indicator.
While protesters in Lyari enthusiastically beat up, strangled and stomped on effigies of the president, MNA Nabeel Gabol and SSP Chaudhry Aslam on Wednesday, Engineer is still sticking to the stance that Lyari is very much a PPP stronghold and only a few misguided folks were responsible for the violence.
While a humanitarian crisis looms in the besieged neighbourhood – given the lack of food and water in the area – Engineer and PPP parliamentary leader Pir Mazharul Haq had little to offer by way of reassurance. “We ask the people of Lyari to be patient,” Haq said. “We apologise for the inconvenience.” The inconveniences, at last count, include intense exchanges of gunfire between the police forces and armed men, the shutdown of mobile service networks and the lack of electricity, gas, water and access to medical supplies. One wonders if Haq would call it an ‘inconvenience’ if he were marooned in a Kalakot house.
And thus, the PPP and its leadership do not seem to be on the same page. On one hand is PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who appears to believe quite strongly in the rights of minorities, if his speeches are anything to go by. On the other hand are his party’s leaders. PPP MPA Saleem Khursheed Khokhar attempted to move an adjournment motion against a statement made by Mian Shabbir, an associate of MNA Mian Mithoo, one of the central characters in the recent cases of conversions of Hindu girls.
The statement, printed in the Urdu newspaper Ummat, quoted Shabbir as saying that legislators from religious minorities were using ‘CIA, R&AW and Mossad funds’. Speaker Nisar Khuhro said the motion was ‘out of order’ because it related to a matter of privilege after Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ayaz Soomro spoke up on the technicalities. One of the grounds was that the motion cited a printed report which couldn’t be taken as the truth, yet the assembly routinely takes news reports as the last call, particularly when it is about opposition parties.
Political issues trump the state of minorities it seems, regardless of how strongly the legislators may feel. Women’s rights were about to meet the same fate, as the PPP abandoned the agenda to present a resolution reaffirming their support to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
Lo and behold, it was almost 2 pm and several MPAs were itching to leave the assembly. Law minister Ayaz Soomro was rather reluctant to stay on – even though the proceedings had barely lasted three hours – and sighed that “there is never a moment of peace” when asked whether they could fit in other agenda items.
It was only after legislators wouldn’t let up on their demand to present the scheduled resolutions did Speaker Khuhro allow them to go ahead with the scheduled agenda.
The female legislators – PPP’s Humera Alwani and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Heer Ismail Soho – found an unlikely supporter in MPA Nadir Magsi, who announced that he had banned child marriages and the trade of women in his area. “You are right that our religion bans these things, but here we have a rivaaj (tradition),” he said. “We must decide whether we want to be Muslims or follow customs.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2012.
More in PakistanAsia’s architectural treasures: Experts fear Taxila may ‘vanish’