ISLAMABAD: Hours after being indicted by the Supreme Court over a disputed contempt charge, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani seemed winning some moral support across party lines in the National Assembly on Monday before opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan jumped in to share the day's honours by pulling off a unanimous, though belated, condemnation of a US Congressional hearing on Balochistan.
The prime minister's arrival during the early part of the question hour to louder than usual desk-thumping from the ruling coalition enlivened a dull house and then lawmakers from both the opposition and treasury benches went to him to shake his hand or say a few words of possible support in the case he has to fight in the apex court for not writing mainly to Swiss judicial authorities to reopen withdrawn money-laundering charges against his party's dead and living leaders in cases instituted by their political rivals in 1990s.
PPP-S chief Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao was the first opposition figure to walk to Mr Gilani's to hug him — and later say he expressed his solidarity to the man who “conducted himself well in the court” â€“ and then lawmakers of other parties, including some female members from the opposition PML-N, made a beeline to the prime minister's desk during his brief stay in the house.
Contrary to the usual spectacle of house members swarming him with papers to be signed by him, only a couple were seen doing that this time round, while the rest of the crowd seemed seeking only a show of sympathy for the embattled prime minister, topped with felicitations even from the chair, Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, who said Mr Gilani's appearance before the Supreme Court twice in the case showed “he respects courts and rule of law”.
Chaudhry Nisar, who came to the house somewhat later than the prime minister, did not display a similar warmth for his opposite number and waited until his departure from the house to ask for support of the treasury benches to move his resolution, which seemed to be an over-reaction to the Feb 8 hearing held by only a sub-committee of the US House of Representatives where witnesses detailed alleged human rights violations in Balochistan but which the US State Department distanced itself from.
The PPP-led government, keen to win opposition's support for a unanimous passage of its Constitution (Twentieth Amendment) Bill after nearly two weeks of deferments, allowed the resolution to be moved and then passed by consensus without much ado, though Chaudhry Nisar acknowledged the move did not mean everything was fine in Balochistan and some other lawmakers disputed reported denials by the chiefs of the army and paramilitary Frontier Corps of allegations of their forces' involvement in killings and disappearances of dissidents.
The resolution described the hearing by the sub-committee on oversight and investigation as an evidence of a “blatant interference in Pakistan's internal affairs”, which it said could jeopardise a healing process in the already strained Pakistan-US relations and “further inflame public opinion against the US by adding to the prevailing sense of mistrust and suspicions regarding US intentions in Pakistan”.
It called upon the government to convey to Washington “in no uncertain terms” that “such hearings relating to internal affairs of Pakistan are totally unacceptable”, that the US administration “needs to play a more proactive role to discourage such ill-informed and motivated debate on sensitive issues of a sovereign country like Pakistan”, and to rebuild trust and confidence, it “should respect and comply with the will of the people of Pakistan as expressed through various parliamentary resolutions and discontinue drone attacks (in Pakistani tribal areas) forthwith”.
Taking what appeared to be a soft line about the much criticised role of security forces in Balochistan, Chaudhry Nisar said the ball was in the government's court after what he called a statement by the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that army was not conducting any operation in the province and one by the FC inspector-general that none of the missing persons was in the control or custody of his force.
The opposition leader also complimented the Supreme Court for forcing concerned authorities to present some missing persons before it earlier on Monday.
In another development, the house adjourned Tuesday's private members' day to 5pm instead of the usual morning session, leading to speculation the government might use the evening sitting to push through the Twentieth Amendment, which seeks to validate challenged by-elections to 28 seats of both houses of parliament and provincial assemblies held during a period when the Election Commission was not complete.
The bill is due to be considered by a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning to consider opposition demands for insertions it thinks necessary to ensure future elections to be free and fair.