ISLAMABAD: A Baloch nationalist lawmaker painted a dismal picture of his troubled province in the National Assembly on Friday as the house finished a wanting first week of its present session.
But the treasury benches seemed little interested, with most of their occupants, including some of ministers present, seen having chats of their own, as Esa Noori of Balochistan National Party of former provincial chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengal pleaded for a remedy to problems that he said had forced many disaffected educated Baloch youth to mountains to engage in what has been a low-intensity insurgency for years.
Mr Noori, as the only speaker of the day in an unfinished debate on former president Asif Ali Zardari’s address to a June 10 joint sitting of parliament (when was still in office), talked of what he called continuing “extrajudicial killings” and kidnappings of political activists struggling for the Baloch people’s rights over their natural resources, estimating 626 mutilated corpses found over an unspecified period, including 64 this year, besides many who were missing.
“In these conditions, can you expect the Baloch to tolerate oppression quietly?” he asked, and appealed to “people in power” to go to Balochistan to study the situation on the ground and meet common people instead of those who would tell them “all is well”.
But Mr Noori cautioned the government that the youth in the mountains, 99 per cent of whom he said were university graduates, were “not prepared to talk to you” because “they neither trust you nor people like us who want to secure our rights within (the framework of) Pakistan”.
Yet he asked people in power to understand the psychology and problems of the Baloch people before “a time comes when there can be no return”.
The present session, which began on Monday, has been dogged by sparse attendance on the treasury benches, which often forced Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Aftab Ahmed Sheikh to answer questions on behalf of absent ministers, and lack of official legislative business while house standing committees formed last month after a delay of more than a month remain dysfunctional because their chairpersons have not yet been elected.
But the attendance of ministers relevant to the day’s agenda seemed somewhat improved on Friday following a cabinet meeting and a promise to the house by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Thursday that he would raise this matter with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the cabinet.
‘STATUS QUO’ WITH TALIBAN: It was also on Thursday that the interior minister broke a government silence about the future of proposed peace talks with Taliban rebels, saying that “there is status quo” following a “serious blow” to the process by last Sunday’s Taliban-claimed attack on an army convoy in Upper Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that killed a major general and an accompanying lieutenant colonel and a non-commissioned officer.
(In a report of Thursday’s proceedings of the house in the Dawn issue on Friday, Chaudhry Nisar was incorrectly quoted as saying that “we have come to a standstill” — instead of his actual words that “there is status quo”.)
Some members of the opposition PPP protested at the alleged lack of government interest in the house business as Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq adjourned the house until 4pm on Monday immediately after Mr Noori’s speech.
Earlier on Friday, Sheikh Aftab introduced a brief government bill seeking to repeal of a long-forgotten Federal Court Act of 1937 in order to implement a 2011 recommendation of the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan because the old law had become ineffective and redundant “pursuant to framing of Supreme Court Rules, 1980”.
In response to a question from Leader of Opposition Khurshid Ahmed Shah, Kashmir Affairs Minister Chaudhry Birjees Tahir told the house that protests had been lodged with the Afghan charge d’affaires in Islamabad and the Afghan foreign ministry in Kabul over a Sept 18 cross-border firing by Afghan forces that killed five Pakistani civilians, including a woman, in Zhob district of Balochistan.
He called the firing serious and condemnable and said such incident could harm an atmosphere of cordiality created by Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Pakistan late last month.