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Minister muddies NA’s last hurrah to Zardari

Updated September 28, 2013
Asif Ali Zardari. — File photo
Asif Ali Zardari. — File photo

ISLMABAD, Sept 27: A federal minister went to surprise lengths to muddy waters, yet the National Assembly, in another bit of history, gave its last hurrah to yesterday’s president Asif Ali Zardari on Friday at the end of a 12-day session.

It was the first time in the country’s parliamentary history that a motion of thanks, or “deep gratitude”, to a president was passed after he had left office and this time it was about Mr Zardari’s record sixth address to a joint sitting of parliament on June 10.

A debate on the presidential address began in the National Assembly — as also in the Senate — last month while Mr Zardari was still in office but it was carried on the lower house’s next session that began on Sept 16, when he had already retired on Sept 8 to become Pakistan’s first elected president to complete the five-year tenure of office.

At the fag-end of his tenure, Mr Zardari, who was succeeded by President Mamnoon Hussain of the presently ruling PML-N on Sept 9, also oversaw the first smooth transition from one elected government of his PPP to another of in early June.

But, contrary to all pleasant things said about this transition in recent months and weeks by the leaders of both main rival parties and during the debate on the presidential address, an abrasive speech the Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, Birjees Tahir, to wind up the debate nearly spoiled what was supposed to be a solemn occasion to adopt the government’s own motion expressing “deep gratitude” of the house to the former president for his June 10 address.

The minister lambasted Mr Zardari for allegedly turning the presidency into a “centre of politics” as, he said, was done by military presidents like Field Marashal Ayub Khan, Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf -- and not done by presidents like Fazal Elahi Chaudhry of the PPP in the 1970 and Rafiq Tarar of the PML-N in the 1990s -- and placed most of the perceived failures of the previous government at his door.

He took Mr Zardari to task even for what he called a failure to bring the assassins of former prime minister and PPP leader Benazir Bhutto and of her brother Murtaza Bhutto and for welcoming, in an interview to Washington Post, the capture and killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by American commandos in a May 2, 2011 raid on his hideout in Abbottabad.

The outburst provoked “no, no” protest shouts from PPP lawmakers, some of whom stood up in their seats as a mark of anger, while one of them, Nasifa Shah, later said the minister’s “so-called winding up speech” was meant to spoil what she said had been “such a good atmosphere … of peaceful transition” and to negate a “historic role” played by Mr Zardari in the restoration of a genuine parliamentary democracy.

She also protested against what she called the minister’s finger-pointing at her when he criticised the performance of the PPP government in Sindh, saying she had nothing to do with the Sindh government as member of this house although her father, Qaim Ali Shah, was the province’s chief minister.

Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq intervened to say he thought there was no such finger-pointing, but Ms Shah insisted it was as she said the minister looked at her on the side of the aisle when he talked of Sindh.

It was the second day of angry exchanges between a government minister and the PPP, after Thursday’s clash between Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Leader of Opposition Khursheed Ahmed Shah over alleged lack of government seriousness in tackling the situation created by Tuesday’s killer earthquake in Balochistan, prompting speculation over whether Mr Tahir’s onslaught was only a hangover from the previous day or part of deliberate flexing of muscles for a political confrontation.

Earlier on Friday, Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch, giving a review of his trip to the quake-hit areas of Balochistan, told the house that he heard gunfire while flying in a helicopter in the province’s worst-hit Awaran district, where he said a militant group called Nazar Allah was operating. He said he was unsure if his helicopter was the target of what officials on ground described as only “random firing”.