Silence is not always golden in the National Assembly

Published: September 21, 2013

ISLAMABAD: Staying put in the press gallery I kept anxiously waiting for Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. The interior minister should have come to the National Assembly, the morning after the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had shocked us by telling everyone through its spokesperson that Javed Ebrahim Paracha did not have any mandate from them to engage the government in peace negotiations.

This denial was doubly embarrassing for the interior minister who had a lengthy meeting with this self-proclaimed mediator from Kohat at the Punjab House of Islamabad on Thursday. From more than three reliable sources, I have also come to know that a mid-ranking official from an intelligence-gathering agency escorted Paracha to this meeting and it took place after Javed Ebrahim Paracha’s long visit to Adyala jail. During this visit, Paracha held meetings with a large number of inmates serving time for alleged involvement in multiple incidents of terrorism.

Most of our readers are perhaps not familiar with Paracha, but regulars of the press gallery know him since 1997 when he came to the National Assembly from Kohat after defeating Syed Iftikhar Hussein Gilani. He had started his political career as a Pushtun nationalist and actively worked for Pushtun Students Federation that sought inspiration from Ghaffar Khan. Then he moved to Southern Punjab and came close to youthful cadres of a students’ organisation who followed the extreme-sectarian teachings of some Ulema historically associated with the JUI. After returning to Kohat, he tried to reach the national assembly with a ticket from the same party, but lost to Gilani, who in those days was a high profile leader of the PPP.

In 1997, Nawaz Sharif did not have a regular Muslim Leaguer to field. Paracha was quick to grab the opportunity by switching to his party and after reaching the National assembly pocketed the office of a parliamentary secretary as well. Like a perfect opportunist, Paracha turned dormant when General Musharraf took over in 1999 and gradually took over the command of a rabid sectarian outfit in Kohat. Thanks to his links with the same outfit, Paracha began cultivating life-long friends amongst Arabs fighting in Afghanistan. He provided shelter to many of them when they fled that country after the US invasion in 2001. Often by engaging costly and prominent lawyers, he facilitated the release of various Jihadis from many countries of Africa and Middle East. For the past three years, however, he mostly stayed low-key and eluded media attention.

As if from nowhere, he suddenly appeared in a TV show early this week and generated the feel as if he had been accepted as mediator, both by the Taliban and the government, to create conditions that could eventually help them to sit for formal negotiations. Paracha continued to savor media limelight from Monday to Thursday by ceaseless hopping from this to that channel for their prime time shows.

Too loud and consistent he remained throughout his TV appearances to vend the theme that after selling their souls to ugly Americans, the media stars of Pakistan “demonised” the Taliban. They were not terrorists or criminals but “soldiers of Islam fighting for the liberation of Afghanistan.” He repeatedly claimed that thanks to his efforts, “followers of Ameerul Momineen Mullah Omar, from Chitral to Zhob” were now willing to hold a “grand Majlis-e-Shura to consider the government’s offer for negotiations with an open mind.” He expected that the said Shura would formally nominate its team of negotiators and the prime minister might do the similar naming of his team after returning from Turkey.

Not for once throughout these fours days, the ever-vigilant media managers of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan cared to deny tales that Ebrahim kept proudly spinning with absolute confidence. Their silence rather forced us to feel as if his sudden surfacing had some ‘choreographed background.’ The access he savored at Adyala jail and subsequent meeting with the interior minister provided solid substance to our imagination and things surely looked moving to a ‘scripted destinations’, when he boasted to media Thursday that Halikum Ullah Mehsud talked to him twice on phone on that day.

Paracha had left for Peshawar after meeting with the interior minister. He made a categorical commitment to talk to me on the record after his reaching that town at 10:00 pm Thursday. His phone was found, ‘switched off,’ after around 8:00 pm. Sources told me that during the cabinet meeting of Friday, many ministers worried put questions to the interior minister to know the truth on Paracha. He feigned ignorance although after admitting that he had met him only on Thursday but that “briefly and without discussing anything important or relevant to negotiations” that the government wanted to hold with Taliban. I sincerely believe that the National Assembly was the right forum, where Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan should have revealed the whole truth. His silence rather compels me to infer as if he was taken for a ride by a crafty limelight seeker from Kohat.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2013. 

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