ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif received both cheer and brickbats on Tuesday as parliament began a discussion over what Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called a “rebellion against the state” by two protesting parties besieging the parliament building to force out the prime minister.
The joint session of the National Assembly and Senate, which will continue on Wednesday, marked a big show of defiance against two weeks of sit-ins outside the building by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) that they extended on Monday to the nearby Prime Minister’s House.
Mr Sharif, who did not speak during some three and a half hours of the day’s debate, heard some of the most biting criticism of his 18-month-old government as well as words of support from the main opposition speaker, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan.
There was no sympathy for the mode of agitation adopted by the protesting parties by laying siege to the parliament and the prime minister’s official residence, though they received some support over issues like the PTI’s charge of a massive rigging of last year’s general elections and the PAT’s grouse against the government’s hesitation to allow the registration of formal first information report (FIR) of a June 17 police shootout in Lahore that allegedly killed at least 14 PAT activists.
The joint session of the National Assembly and Senate will continue today
The day was also marked by the PTI’s dissident figurehead president, Javed Hashmi, pleasing treasury benches by his arrival in the house in apparent defiance of his boycotting party, but later pouring cold water on the sentiment by telling National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, who chaired the sitting, to accept his resignation from the lower house that was sent to him by his party along with those of some 30 other party lawmakers out of a total of 34.
The house will likely see a more spectacular show on Wednesday when, under a directive from PTI Chairman Imran Khan, some 30 remaining party lawmakers are to come and confirm the genuineness of their resignations sent to the National Assembly speaker last week.
On being challenged by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of the government-allied Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F), as to why he was not accepting the PTI resignations, the speaker told the house that since the resignations were sent to his office when he was not present there, he wanted to determine whether the members resigned out of their free will, while the possibility of a compromise on the prevailing political crisis was another reason for “some delay”.
The interior minister opened the debate with a hard-hitting tirade against the protesters, asking parliament to guide the government on three points: confronting this “rebellion against the state of Pakistan”, proposing a legal and constitutional way out of the crisis, removing what he called a misconception created by the protesting parties that the army was behind their campaign.
Many eyebrows were raised when the minister specially praised the role played by the Punjab police, along with the Azad Kashmir police and the army, in dealing with the protesters so far, but he offered an “unmitigated apology on behalf of the government and myself” for Sunday’s apparently targeted brutal attacks by the Punjab police against the staff of several private television channels while they were covering the protests in Islamabad.
Senator Ahsan of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), who is Leader of the Opposition in the upper house, said the opposition parties “are standing by democracy and constitution … unconditionally” because a victory for “lashkars” that had landed in Islamabad would be the “darkest day” meaning tearing the Constitution in pieces.
But he said “we are also worried” that after a survival of the present government, arrogance of its ministers may increase.
Yet he assured the prime minister that “we stand by you out of compulsion” despite what he called repression meted out to PPP workers by the PML-N government in Punjab and said he hoped “your attitude will be different” after coming out of the present crisis.
While expressing his confidence that nobody could force the prime minister to resign against his will, he hoped Mr Sharif would not repeat what he did in 1993 when he resigned a day after saying he would not, though Chaudhry Nisar corrected the dates of the happening.
But Mr Ahsan supported Imran Khan’s complaints of rigging of the 2013 elections as well as of corruption in government, joined voice with PAT at least over the “calamity let loose on Model Town” in Lahore with the June 17 fatal police attack on the PAT headquarters and protested against Sunday’s “repression” on the media in Islamabad that he said had “put our heads to shame”.
Two prominent government allies, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, called for a strong action by the government to remove the protesters from Islamabad while voicing fears of what the Maulana called “some other power” supporting them.
Referring to a call by an army corps commanders’ conference on Sunday for a resolution of the situation “without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means”, the JUI-F chief called it a pressure being put on the government against using force, but asked the prime minister to direct the interior minister to “clear Islamabad of these people”.
Mr Achakzai, speaking earlier, wondered how the protesters were allowed entry into parliament’s premises, which he called a terrorist activity, and urged unspecified quarters to “remove your dear ones from here” as they were removed from the PTV (on Monday).
National Assembly member Khalid Maqbool of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement regretted the interior minister’s praise for the Punjab police as he called for justice to be done in the Lahore Model Town shooting case, but opposed Mr Imran Khan’s call for launching a civil disobedience movement.
Mr Hashmi, coming as the last speaker of the day, seemed less about Imran Khan than he was during a talk to the media on the previous day as he spoke of big honour given to him in the party before lashing out at the prime minister for not going to the Senate for a long time and talked of unexplained “excesses” done to him by the PML-N government over the past 14 months.
Yet Mr Sharif walked to Mr Hashmi to shake his hand as the house was adjourned until 11am on Wednesday.
Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014