ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly opened an opposition-requisitioned session on Thursday to discuss the government’s handling of the worst flooding in the country’s history, but rapidly unfolding political developments immediately shifted the focus, forcing MPs to defer the key debate.
At the heart of the proceedings was a recent statement by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain, urging ‘patriotic’ military generals to come up with a martial law-style action against ‘corrupt and feudal-minded’ politicians.
And again it was the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) that moved ahead to snub the statement with its top leader in the house calling it the ‘assertion that has shaken the democratic foundations of Pakistan’.
But just when leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan termed the statement a ‘threat to democracy and the country’, surprisingly silent was the entire hierarchy of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
The PML-N is the only group that has taken upon itself to censure Altaf Hussain’s assertion and has more than once vowed to block if there is any ‘discreet’ plan to topple the democracy by anyone.
“We have all been shouldering dictatorships in the past… but the political leadership has now matured. We have promised not to shoulder generals anymore,” Nisar said, referring to a Charter of Democracy (CoD) his party and the PPP signed in London back in 2006.
The landmark agreement called for resisting temptations to support the country’s ‘power-hungry’ military to seek instant political gains.
Many observers interpreted as ‘one big indication’ of a ‘clandestine’ plan by the military to install a national government of all political parties and technocrats when Altaf called for the martial law-like action. But, Nisar said, enough is enough.
“We are ready to recognise MQM at a political pitch… but if the pitch is such that is a threat for the country… I swear to God, we will never remain silent,” he said, making his party’s intention clear.
Then emerged MQM parliamentary leader Dr Farooq Sattar with what appeared to be a defense-cum-explanation of Altaf’s statement. “Extraordinary circumstances demand matching actions… that’s what Quaid-e-Tehreek meant when he called for a martial law-like endeavor,” Sattar remarked, without exhibiting any sign of regret over the statement being widely criticised.
The house spared some time to pay homage to Justice (Retd) Abdul Razzaq Thahim, the former federal minister for local government, who passed away on Wednesday.
The house is likely to take up the flood debate when it resumes proceedings on Friday morning.
Meanwhile, an opposition parliamentarian accused individuals in the federal and Punjab provincial governments of ‘patronising’ sectarian organisations to secure their political support, resonating allegations seen an apparent hurdle in Pakistan battle against such outfits.
Speaking on a point of order in the National Assembly, Shaikh Waqas Akram of Pakistan Muslim League-Q alleged that ‘political connections’ of Deobandi jihadis often give them a ‘lease of life’.
Waqas hails from Jhang district in central Punjab that is considered to be the birth place and stronghold of Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), an outfit with a declared anti-Shia agenda.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a group that claimed responsibility for the triple suicide bombing at a Shia procession in Lahore on Wednesday, is an offshoot of the SSP and reportedly has very strong al-Qaeda links.
Akram, who is known for his hard-hitting speeches against the group, blamed the Punjab government for secretly releasing all SSP activists picked up after the suicide attack at the Data Darbar shrine in Lahore earlier in the year.
He mentioned four terrorists from Jhang — Hafiz Khalid, Yousaf Farooqi, Mohavia Kurd and Hafiz Bilal — who were detained immediately after the shrine bombing but some top politicians secured their release immediately.
“The latest attack in Lahore could have been averted, had the terrorists not been released,” Shaikh said of what he called an ‘unholy’ nexus between Deobandi jihadis and politicians.
Though Waqas didn’t mention anybody in the government having links with terror outfits, there have been reports in the past that some federal and provincial ministers had close connections with them.
The most convincing of evidences were against the Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah who was once caught by television cameras, leading an election rally with SSP chief Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi in Jhang district. Rana has so far resisted several calls for his resignation.
Earlier, Waqas’ party colleague MNA Riaz Pirzada blasted what he called a failure of Pakistan’s ‘institutions’ to protect Shias.
Pirzada’s speech was followed by a walk-out by members from the PML-Q and MQM. Prominent MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi also urged the government to move against the sectarian jihadis “before it’s too late”.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2010.