ISLAMABAD, Sept 3: Both government allies and foes staged walkouts on the opening day of a National Assembly session on Monday mainly over higher petroleum prices and sectarian violence before the house decided to hold a law and order debate with the interior minister promising to unveil ‘conspiracies’.
The separate walkouts by the government-allied MQM and ANP to protest at the latest increase in the prices of petroleum products and by the PML-N over this and other perceived government ‘failures’ came after the elder son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani replaced his father in the house with a thunder.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he would disclose what he called conspiracies behind the highly publicised blasphemy charge brought against a minor Christian girl by a prayer leader of a mosque in Islamabad last month as well as a new wave of sectarian attacks in various parts of the country after the house adopted his motion for a debate on the law and order situation.
No date was fixed for the debate which could commence on Wednesday — Tuesday being the private members’ day devoted to private bills and motions — and continue for two days.
MQM lawmakers were the first to walk out after one of them, Abdul Kader Khanzada, protested against what he estimated as about 25 per cent increase in the prices of petroleum products in the past two months and asked why a house committee set up for prior approval of such increases had not been consulted.
While Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, who chaired the proceedings in the absence of Speaker Fehmida Mirza, promised to look into the committee’s fate, PML-N’s senior parliamentarian Ahsan Iqbal advised the MQM to “walk out of the government” led by the PPP and join the opposition rather than walking out of the house.
Then Mr Iqbal, who is the deputy secretary general of his party, launched his own tirade against the government over not only the petroleum prices but also the general state of affairs, including electricity loadshedding, sectarian and other violence such as in Karachi, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan — though he did not talk about Punjab that is ruled by his party — US drone attacks in the tribal areas, and economic performance that he said had brought the country “on the brink of default” before announcing the walkout against “all these failures of the government”.
The PML-N lawmakers, including Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who came to the house after Mr Iqbal had begun his speech but did not take the floor, did not return to the house for the remainder of the sitting, which saw the ANP’s token walkout over petroleum prices much later in the day after their lawmaker Haider Ali Shah, a member of the house committee on petroleum affairs, alleged that the proportion of domestic price increases was often more than the international price hikes.
From the government side, Defence Minister Naveed Qamar pointed out that it was the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority that determined domestic petroleum prices in proportion to international prices and reminded critics that “the government does not fix oil prices”.
But there was no government response to MQM’s query that why the house committee was not being consulted.
Responding to questions raised through points of orders by several members about sectarian attacks and the arrest of a Christian girl on the complaint of a mosque imam for allegedly burning pages from the holy Quran, the interior minister said he would inform the house about what he called ‘conspiracies’ behind these incidents and would also propose to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to ask for an in-camera briefing to the house.
A member of the government-allied PML-Q, Nosheen Saeed, and MQM’s Wasim Akhtar questioned the justification of a continued detention of the Christian girl after an Islamabad court got evidence accusing the mosque imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, of inserting pages from the holy Quran in a bag allegedly found with burned papers in her bag.
But the interior minister, who promised to “expose the real conspiracy tomorrow”, said legal requirements had to be met after the registration of a first information report with police.
Former prime minister Gilani’s son, Abdul Qadir Gilani, made a high-pitched speech from a back bench, punctuated by some “jiay Bhutto” slogans from his supporters in the visitors’ galleries, after taking oath as a member of the house to which he was elected in July for the seat vacated by the disqualification of his father by the Supreme Court over a contempt of court conviction.
Describing the ouster of the former prime minister from the lower house as “unconstitutional, undemocratic and immoral”, he said: “Yousuf Raza Gilani is (now) present in this house in my person.”
He had a swipe at the judiciary when he referred to the dismissal of pre-arrest bail petitions of his younger brother and house member Ali Musa Gilani and PPP’s textile industry minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin by the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High court earlier in the day in a case of alleged illegalities in an ephedrine drug import, and said it would not have happened “if they had their fathers’ court”.