KARACHI: The mysterious disappearance of two aides of former president Asif Zardari echoed in the Sindh Assembly on Wednesday when Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah reminded the federal institutions of their constitutional obligation to produce a suspect in court within 24 hours of his arrest.
The issue of the two “missing” aides — Ashfaq Leghari and Ghulam Qadir Marri — was raised by provincial minister Imdad Pitafi through a point of order soon after the house was called to order by Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani. He held Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan responsible for the disappearance of the two senior workers of the Pakistan Peoples Party.
Following the speeches of half a dozen lawmakers from across the aisle, CM Shah stood up to give a policy statement on the issue.
Maintaining that his government was against the disappearance of any political party, he expressed the resolve that the Sindh government would not sit idle and utilise all resources to find out the whereabouts of the “missing” aides.
Expressing his gratitude to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and other parties in the assembly for showing their sympathy and support, the CM said he had full realisation of the concerns of the entire house over the issue.
He condemned the two incidents and said if anyone was involved in any anti-state activity or terrorism he should be produced in court after his arrest.
He said that Mr Leghari and Mr Marri were “kidnapped” from Gadap on Superhighway and near Jamshoro on April 3 and 7, respectively.
The CM said that the police had come into action immediately and checked even the phone call records but found no clue about the people who had picked them up. “We have limited resources and take assistance from other agencies to trace people.”
He said that the two incidents did not appear to be an act of kidnapping for ransom from any angle.
He said he met Mr Marri in Naudero on the eve of the death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He was stopped and whisked away near a Jamshoro bridge by “people carrying walkie-talkies who came in two Vigo vehicles”.
Mr Shah said Mr Marri was a close friend of the former president and a landlord. He informed the house that a petition was filed in the Sindh High Court that if they were with any agency they should be produced in court and the institutions should work within the constitutional framework.
He said if they were taken away by some federal agencies then there was a constitution provision which bound the agencies to produce the suspects in court within 24 hours of their arrest.
He recalled the case of former federal minister Dr Asim Hussain, who remained incarcerated for over 21 months in a terrorism case despite the fact that no one could believe that he had links to terrorists.
The CM said that the PPP had sent its delegation in August 2016 to a hunger-strike camp of the MQM to express solidarity with them.
“Today MQM lawmakers have also talked about their missing persons. I want to assure them that soon a meeting will be called and [we] will move in accordance with law because we are against disappearance of political workers,” he added.
He said that the lawmakers were justified in expressing their concern over “missing” activists.
Appreciating their sentiments, the CM assured them that every possible measure would be taken for the secure recovery of the “missing” aides of Mr Zardari no matter which agency had picked them.
Earlier, MQM’s Faisal Sabzwari said that “who else could realise the concern and pain of the disappearance of political workers than the MQM” whose “hundreds” of workers were missing for years. He regretted that despite repeatedly taking up their issue in the house no one ever paid any attention.
He said if anyone was accused or wanted in a case, he should be produced in court. “Our all sympathies are with the PPP families affected by the incidents,” he said.
Dr Zafar Kamali of the same party said “hot winds were earlier blowing towards us but now its direction is towards the ruling PPP. But we equally share their grief as no worker of any party should go missing”.
Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza said that the prime minister and his cabinet were repeating the politics of the ‘90s before the verdict in Panama Papers case came. Mr Zardari had been politically victimised in the past and now his friends were being victimised, but PPP leadership was not afraid of such tactics, she said.
PPP’s Khairunnisa Mughal said that the PML-N indulged in similar tactics whenever it came to power.
Mehtab Akbar Rashdi of the PML-Functional said it was a matter of deep concern that the ruling party was complaining of foul play.
Minister Jam Khan Shoro said these tactics are attempts to silence the PPP.
After the policy statement of the CM, the agenda was taken up by the speaker.
Senior Minister Nisar Khuhro tabled the supplementary order of the day.
The speaker read out the governor’s message for reconsidering the Sindh Development and Maintenance of Infrastructure Cess Bill. The cess was enforced by the finance bill in 1994 but the high court had pointed out that the cess could not be imposed by the finance bill. Therefore, the bill was passed by the assembly.
After clarification, the bill was again put to the house and unanimously passed.
The house also adopted a resolution, tabled by Syed Sardar Ahmad of the MQM, with a consensus condemning the demolition of the Jufelhurst School structure and demanded that the culprits be punished and the school building be reconstructed immediately.
Minister Khuhro also announced that the governor had given assent of nine bills adopted earlier by the house.
The house was adjourned by the chair at 6.45pm to meet on Thursday at 10am.
Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2017