ISLAMABAD, April 17: Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and one of his key aides assured the National Assembly on Thursday their government would not allow any political victimisation while seeking to enforce the rule of law in the country.
The assurances came after a token protest walkout by the opposition amid an exchange of charges of political victimisation between the two sides of the lower house — the opposition charging the new government and some members of the ruling coalition blaming its predecessors.
In the so-called “zero hour” that allowed members to air their grievances through points of order, voices were also raised against alleged excesses committed in Balochistan in the past, with one lawmaker from the troubled southwestern province saying the solution of the problem there lay in rectifying injustices rather than in just offering apologies as recently done by the coalition government leader Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
The prime minister, who has been regularly attending the new National Assembly’s first regular session since its start a week ago, directed his adviser on interior Rehman Malik to satisfy the opposition by inquiring into and taking up their complaints of victimisation with provincial governments.
“I will also inquire into the matter and (ensure) such incidents and victimisation does not happen,” he said while referring to complaints of some opposition members about registration of criminal cases against political opponents in Sindh and Punjab provinces.
Mr Gilani reiterated the coalition government policy of political reconciliation, and said people had attached great expectations to the present parliament. “If this parliament fails, there may not be another chance,” he added.
In what seemed to be a reflection of a carrot-and-stick policy for Sindh, interior adviser Malik told the house the government would not allow any victimisation of political workers and that action would be taken on all first information reports (FIRs) registered with police about incidents related to the Feb 18 elections.
His statement came after a PPP member from Sindh, Abdul Qadir Jatoi, accused what he called “urban jagirdars” of Karachi of kidnapping his four polling agents, killing two of them and cutting them into pieces.
The member, whose remarks started the blame game, did not identify the group and said: “People speak into ears about who is responsible but they are not prepared to tell the same to police.”
Mr Rehman came out with a stern response: “This all happened before our government (came into being). I assure you no such incident will be allowed to happen now.”
He said the provincial government had been asked to look into all FIRs and “action will be taken against whosoever is found involved”.
The same would be done about the case of a police head constable in Hyderabad who a Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) member, M. Salahuddin, said had had his hands cut and feet broken by people who he had stopped from committing election irregularities.
The adviser’s statement came only days after the government named a new police chief for Sindh, provoking protests from the MQM, which cited the appointment as one of the reasons for the breakdown of its talks with the PPP for joining the Sindh government.
But Mr Malik, in remarks after the brief opposition walkout, appeared more conciliatory about ruling coalition member Hayatullah Durrani’s complaints over Baloch political detainees and said their cases were being examined and there would be no victimisation in the future.
He said details about missing persons, many of whom were alleged to have been picked up by intelligence agencies under the previous regime, were being collected and added: “Excesses have been committed (in the past), but there will no excesses now.”
But despite the row over victimisation, there seemed to be an unusually better communication between the opposition and treasury benches in the absence of opposition leader Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, with members from either often going to the other for brief chats.
Faisal Saleh Hayat appealed to the prime minister to take a personal interest in the opposition’s victimisation complaints to save the parliament from the “nightmares of the past”.
Former interior minister Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao, who leads the breakaway PPP-S, wanted the government to consult the opposition about any resolution it wanted to move in the house, while complaining that the same was not done for the resolution passed on Monday asking for a UN probe into the Dec 27 assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
Prominent PML member Riaz Hussain Pirzada warned both sides that this assembly might not last long if they did not respect each other.
The house failed to resume a debate on the prevailing power crisis in the country as the matter seemed to have been overtaken by a severer flour crisis, points of order about which consumed a lot of time before the proceedings were adjourned until 10am on Friday.