ISLAMABAD: If one were to believe what Interior Minister Rehman Malik boastfully told a fired-up National Assembly on Wednesday, it were his warnings to Dr Tahirul Qadri like plucking him from a bullet-proof refuge and registering a treason case against him, rather than any concessions, that broke the political cleric’s defiance to end a dreadful march on Islamabad last week.
The minister had kept a low profile on the issue since Dr Qadri signed an apparently face-saving declaration with government negotiators before dispersing a four-day `dharna’, of tens of thousands of the followers of his Tehrik Minhajul Quran non-governmental organisation outside parliament on Jan 17, after a `long march’ from Lahore.
But Mr Malik seemed to be in his usual high spirits once again when he came to the National Assembly on Wednesday when the house atmosphere was already charged after separate protest walkouts by two opposition parties and fiery wordy duels over a controversy about government plans for an amendment in the Constitution to create two new provinces in south Punjab.
He spoke with some gusto on the issue, though briefly, in response to occasional opposition jibes at the government for allegedly acquiescing to a perceived blackmail by signing an agreement that some lawmakers said could provide a precedent to encourage any group in the future to force a government into submission by collecting thousands of people in Islamabad.
“I had not signed the agreement as a minister,” said Mr Malik, who was not among 11 government negotiators who reached the deal with Dr qadri on Thursday evening after he had given a deadline for talks before choosing an unspecified course for the marchers who had sworn an oath not to return until the completion of their so-called `revolution’.
The minister said he had warned Dr Qadri that if the sit-in was not ended that day, he would get him taken out “like hair from butter” from his bullet-proof container placed on a crossing near the parliament house on Islamabad’s main Jinnah Avenue commercial boulevard, register a treason case against him, disclose the sources of his funds and publicise a medical report about his state of mind.
“I am happy he acted upon my advice,” Mr Malik said about the Allama who had been targeting him, as well as the Punjab provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, with the harshest comments he used against government functionaries during the `long march’ and `dhrana’ and had spoken of a “Satanic attack” that could not materialise because of his deal.
“Then why did you lie down?” Tahmina Daultana shouted at Mr Malik in Urdu repeatedly as she turned back when walking up the aisle to leave the house, where she had earlier led members of her Pakistan Muslim League-N in a token walkout to protest at the killing of a PML-N member and his father by unidentified gunmen in Karachi on Tuesday.
There had been rumours during the Islamabad sit-in of a possible raid on Dr Qadri’s container to take him into custody and bringing treason charges against him but it was the first time a senior government functionary spoke of specific plans formally, though both sides had registered complaints against each other in connection with a shooting incident, which the parties later committed in the joint declaration not to pursue.The interior minister had also spoken about the possibility of an unspecified `targeted action’ a day before the deal, prompting media reports of a possible `operation’ to use force, which was subsequently denied by government spokesmen.
At one time on the same day, there were also rumours that Dr Qadri’s workers had cut off iron hooks of his container to make it difficult for a helicopter to pick it up with iron chains in any commando raid.
Both the walkouts of the day were led by female members – Ms Daultana followed by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam’s Asia Nasir in her party’s third walkout in as many days to protest against the imposition of governor’s rule earlier this month in Balochistan province, where the JUI-F was a partner in the dismissed PPP-led coalition government.
Tempers seemed frayed by mostly sentimental speeches for and against carving out one or two provinces in south Punjab, coinciding with stepped up proceedings of a parliamentary commission examining the issue despite a boycott by the PML-N, which had initially supported new provinces in resolutions adopted by the National Assembly and the Punjab provincial assembly last year.
Strangely the first spark of the day came from a non-Punjabi cabinet member, Science and Technology Minister Changez Khan Jamali of the PPP from Balochistan, who said only one Seraiki province comprising Seraiki-speaking districts of south Punjab be created.
Some eyebrows were raised when Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada, who recently announced switching to PML-N though he still occupies one of the seats assigned to of the government-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), said creating any new province would lead to a break-up of the country, though he was previously considered to be a supporter of the revival of former Bahawalpur province.
In their speeches afterwards, some other PML-N members, including Ms Daultana, who hails from south Punjab, opposed new provinces, though one of them, Rana Tanveer Hussain, seemed conciliatory when he accused the government of not seeking consensus on the required amendment of the constitution as had been done for previous Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth amendments but said that if a correct, constitutional method was adopted “we will be in the forefront” whether it be a South Punjab province or Bahawalpur province.
Among the advocates for the new provinces were two PML-Q’members from south Punjab -- Defence Production Minister Sardar Bahadur Khan Sehar, who said Seraiki-speaking people wanted an identity in the form of a Seraiki province while “we will have no objection” to a Bahawalpur province as well, and Mohammad Raza Hayat Hiraj who blamed perceived domination by central Punjab for backwardness in the south and said that whatever the name “we people will God-willing get a new province and liberate ourselves”.
The house adopted a report of its standing committee on rules of procedure and privileges that called for “necessary disciplinary action” by the `competent authority’ against a Federal Investigation Agency director, Hussain Asghar, for a `biased’ investigation against house member Abdul Kadir Gilani, a son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and an “appropriate action deemed necessary” by the house for a breach of the member’s privilege.
The house, which will meet on Thursday at 11am, also passed a government bill to provide for the registration and regulation of private educational institutions in Islamabad -- the Islamabad Capital Territory Private Educational Institutions (Registration and Regulation) Bill -- with some amendments of a 2006 presidential ordinance on the same subject.