ISLAMABAD: Amid nationwide concern over the death of an army general in a bomb blast claimed by the Taliban, most lawmakers preferred silence on the killing when the National Assembly opened a new session on Monday.
On Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s request, the house did offer a formal Fateha for the fallen Maj Gen Sanaullah Khan Niazi as well as a lieutenant-colonel and a non-commissioned officer killed with him in Sunday’s roadside blast of an improvised explosive device in Upper Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but the government and lawmakers from both sides of aisle surprisingly avoided any mention of such an important happening except for some remarks by a member of the opposition PPP regretting the apparent apathy.
Speaker Sardar Ayaz Saqiq seemed to think that the interior minister would make a policy statement, and he said so when the minister stood up immediately after the house made an unusual start with a deputy sergeant-at-arms reciting verses from the Holy Quran instead of an official qari who was found absent on the occasion.
But the minister said he had risen not to make a policy statement but only to point out that it was the first time in his parliamentary career to see a security official rather than a qari reciting the Quranic verses to begin the house proceedings, before he requested for a prayer for the army “shuhada” (martyrs).
Chaudhry Nisar, the senior-most government functionary present in the house at the time in the absence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had earlier left for a three-day official visit to Turkey, was seen consulting with Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan who has been the most outspoken proponent of unconditional peace talks with the Taliban, and later with the government-allied Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai at their desks, leading to speculation that some joint resolution on Sunday’s blast might be presented in the house.
But no such thing came out as the minister left the house sometime later as did Imran Khan without making a speech, apparently aware of a strongly-worded statement issued earlier in the day by Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani declaring that the army had “the ability and the will to take the fight to the terrorists” and would not be dictated by their “terms”.
That apparently left the house members and journalists in the press gallery wondering about the fate of peace talks offered to the Taliban in light of a series of attacks on security forces on Sunday, of which the one in Upper Dir near the Afghan border became the most devastating.
With Leader of Opposition Khurshid Ahmed Shah of the PPP being absent because of a private visit to London, the party’s parliamentary leader, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, too preferred silence.
However, Nafisa Shah, a PPP lawmaker from Sindh, condemned what she called “most worrisome” attack on the general’s convoy and wondered why some parties known for making a hue and cry about American drone attacks on suspected militant hideouts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas “would not condemn the martyrdom of a major general or a lieutenant general in the same manner”.
Speaking in a resumed debate on former president Asif Ali Zardari’s address to a joint sitting of parliament on June 10, she said the unconditional offer of talks with the Taliban as envisioned in a resolution adopted by a Sept 9 all-party conference convened by the prime minister, was not the PPP policy but that the party “went along” with it out of respect for the mandate won by the PML-N in the May 11 elections.
Earlier, the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement staged a token walkout in protest against what one of its members, Asif Hasnain, called direction of an anti-crime crackdown in Karachi against his party and an “attempt to impose the mandate of rural areas (of Sindh) over the mandate of urban areas”.
But the argument was rejected by PPP’s Ms Shah who advised the MQM to cooperate with the crackdown as the main party in Karachi in line with a decision taken by a special cabinet meeting held by the prime minister in the city earlier this month with the MQM represented by its provincial governor.
However, the debate on the presidential address, which has become the first of its kind in Pakistan’s parliamentary history being continued after the departure of the president who had made the speech, was cut short when the house was found lacking quorum, forcing Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi to adjourn it until 10.30am on Tuesday.
A meeting of the house business advisory committee held before the start of the sitting decided, according to an assembly press release, to continue the session until Sept 27 instead of the previous tentatively scheduled date of Oct 1.