ISLAMABAD, Oct 5: Amid political suspense over other matters, Balochistan sprang out of the question hour to some fireworks in the National Assembly on Friday, with the government claiming to have implemented most of a pacification package for the restive province.
But as the government and opposition accused each other of being non-serious about the insurgency-hit province on the opening day of an autumn session of the lower house, the treasury benches had no answer to a repeated question from an opposition lawmaker as to why Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani was allegedly spending more time in Islamabad than in the provincial capital, Quetta, where his presence was most needed.
The session came a week earlier than a previous schedule amid speculation about the fate of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in a contempt case before the Supreme Court, and the opening sitting of the house adjourned somewhat early until Monday just as a five-judge SC bench adjourned its own hearing of the case until Oct 10.
The prime minister, in office for just over three months after his predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani was convicted of contempt of court and removed in the same case for refusing — on the grounds of a presidential immunity — to write to Swiss authorities to revive disputed money-laundering charges against President Asif Ali Zardari, was present in the house when Law Minister Farooq H. Naek got a five-day adjournment of the case after the judges disagreed with one paragraph of a proposed compromise letter to be sent to Switzerland.
The early summoning of the session had sparked speculation that the aim was to have the National Assembly, which elects a prime minister, at hand should Mr Ashraf meet Mr Gilani’s fate, despite risks of a backlash against sending a second prime minister home.
It has also been speculated that the ruling coalition could bring a new bill to parliament to allow Pakistanis holding dual nationality to contest elections after recent Supreme Court rulings that disqualified several members of parliament and provincial assemblies for holding dual nationality, which resulted in a string of by-elections ordered by the Election Commission just when the present assemblies are left with five and a half months of their five-year tenures.
A prominent PML-N member, Tehmina Daultana, hijacked a question from a party colleague about the implementation of Agha-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan package to raise issues of the role of Frontier Corps (FC) in the troubled province and of allegedly frequent absence of Chief Minister Raisani from the provincial capital.
Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira defended FC’s presence in Balochistan on the ground that only five per cent of the area of the country’s largest but least populated province was under police jurisdiction with the remaining 95 per cent being looked after by paramilitary forces.
Those asking for the withdrawal of FC should also suggest an alternative, he said while ridiculing a similar demand made recently by PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif.
The minister clarified that the FC, though a federal force, had been placed under the control of the chief minister for its operations in Balochistan.
Earlier, parliamentary secretary for the cabinet division, Khurram Jahangir Wattoo, gave a detailed explanation of what he called complete implementation of 42 of a total of 61 proposals of the package announced by former prime minister Gilani.
But he declined to speak about why the Balochistan chief minister allegedly stayed most of the time during his tenure in Islamabad rather than in Quetta, saying it was the job of the provincial government to explain.
While Mrs Daultana insisted on raising more questions on Balochistan, PPP member Nawaz Yusuf Talpur, who was chairing the proceedings at the time, announced the end of the question hour and adjourned the house until 5pm on Monday without taking up two government bills and two call-attention notices from PPP and PML-N members.