ISLAMABAD: Like his other colleagues who spoke in the National Assembly on Saturday, the usually tough-talking interior minister, Rehman Malik, took the role of a preacher to make a holy, though ambiguous, offer to Taliban militants: “Return to the fold of Islam” to end bloodshed.
Lawmakers from both sides of aisle, including some non-Muslims, invoked Islamic teachings for the sake of peace in the country as the house suspended its normal agenda to hold a rare debate to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on a move from Khursheed Ahmed Shah, Religious Affairs Minister and chief whip of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
But there were not many listeners for more than 20 lawmakers who spoke to a poorly attended house, which met a day after Eid Miladun Nabi (PBUH), which was a national holiday.
The sitting, chaired by PPP member Yasmeen Rehman, started with only 18 members present and the attendance never reached even 30 at any time, although the quorum for the 342-seat house requires the presence of 86 members.
After some of his usual bluster, such as “munafiqeen” (hypocrites) misusing a religious platform for violence, like throats of Muslims cut in Swat valley during the 2009 Taliban revolt there, and appealing to ulema to bring perceived deviators to the right path, the interior minister, addressing the Taliban, said: “I invite you to give up terrorism.”
Then asking them at whose behest they were fighting, he said: “I invite all Taliban to come into the fold of Islam and stop ‘qatl-o-gharat’ (murder and pillage).”
But the minister’s remarks remained ambiguous as he did not say if a halt of violence by the Taliban could lead to a dialogue, which the government has said in the past could be held only with those militants who laid down their weapons.
Mr Khursheed Shah, who wound up the debate, did not pick up the interior minister’s theme as he spoke of the need for ulema to use the pulpit to preach unity among Muslims rather than sectarianism, though he said “there is a mentality that promotes murders and we have to fight against this mentality”.
While most lawmakers avoided speaking of politics in general, before the house was adjourned until 5pm on Tuesday, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the only religious party in the house, struck a discordant note after speeches by a couple of its members by staging a fifth walkout in as many days to protest against the imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan where it was a partner in the dismissed PPP-led provincial cabinet.