ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly heard on Monday the government virtually shelving, for now, its plan to revive a disrupted peace effort with Taliban insurgents, ending a heated six-day debate without even endorsing a previous mandate in this regard given by an all-party conference.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan succeeded in soothing angry opposition lawmakers, so they came to the sitting without their condition of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s presence being met, but he appeared helpless on another key issue, saying no dialogue could make headway until the United States stopped drone strikes at suspected militant hideouts in the tribal belt.
He repeated his argument that a dialogue process initiated by the government as mandated by the Sept 9 APC had been “sabotaged” by a Nov 1 drone strike that killed the fugitive Taliban chief Hakeemullah Mehsud. He said he had told leaders of parliamentary parties earlier in the day that “we have to review the situation for the next three to four weeks” before deciding what to do next.
Although he assured the house that “we have to pick up the pieces” in the face of what he called “broken paths”, he spoke of no remedy for drone attacks, which a government ally, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party leader Mehmood Achakzai, bluntly said were “beyond our power to stop” without an agreement among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States.
Even an earlier threat by Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, to retaliate against the drone attacks by blocking Nato supplies passing through the PTI-ruled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after Nov 20 seemed to have become toothless as he told the house that his party would instead hold a “historic” protest against Nato supplies on that date, possibly in Peshawar.
The opposition parties had threatened on Friday that they would not attend the session on Monday if the prime minister did not come to the house to brief them about the situation after they felt frustrated with the interior minister who had left for a trip to the earthquake-hit Awaran district of Balochistan and Karachi with Mr Sharif instead of giving a promised winding up speech.
But they came back when the house started its sitting after a 105-minute delay, with Chaudhry Nisar regretting his Friday’s absence on the plea that he thought he would be required to wind up the debate on Monday.
Yet, some opposition lawmakers demanded that the prime minister come to the house, possibly on the last day of the session on Tuesday.
Unlike other parliamentary party leaders, Leader of Opposition Khursheed Ahmed Shah of the PPP refrained from responding to the minister’s long speech, which rejected allegations of delaying the APC-mandated process by recounting problems in what he called building “a foundation brick by brick” before it was “shattered” by the drone attack a day before three emissaries were to fly to the area to contact the Taliban leadership.
“There can be no headway in the next few days,” he said, referring to a “strong reaction from the other side” and the appointment of a new hard-line Taliban leader, Mullah Fazlullah. He added: “It takes two hands to clap and not when there is talk of ‘dialogue, dialogue’ from this side and ‘refusal, refusal’ from there.”
Chaudhry Nisar referred to a “wide consensus” of all political parties on the need to continue the dialogue process, that drone attacks should stop and that whatever was decided should be unanimous, but his meeting with party leaders decided against passing a resolution in the face of several drafts.
However, Imran Khan complained of finding a “divided nation” after the APC consensus, although he invited all parties to join the PTI’s Nov 20 protest.
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman called for continuing peace efforts and making new approaches to Taliban ranks to break the present deadlock, saying it was the test of politics to find “a way out if the path has been blocked by thorns, water or rocks”.