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Govt in talks with protesters, minister tells NA

Updated November 01, 2018

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Minister of State for Interior Sheheryar Afridi addresses the National Assembly. ─ DawnNewsTV
Minister of State for Interior Sheheryar Afridi addresses the National Assembly. ─ DawnNewsTV

Minister of State for Interior Sheheryar Afridi, during an address to the National Assembly on Thursday, informed lawmakers that the government is in talks with religio-political parties protesting the Supreme Court's Oct 31 judgement in the Aasia Bibi case.

Afridi said the nation would soon hear good news.

The minister categorically declared that there would be no compromise on the rule of law and supremacy of law. "This is the message that this House needs to convey to the whole world," he said.

"No one needs to get a certificate from anyone else, no one can dictate to anyone else," he said, adding that the protection of lives and places of worship of minorities is the responsibility of the state.

Afridi added that no one would be allowed to misuse the present situation for political gain.

"In the past, religion was used for political purposes and to malign each other. This will not happen in naya Pakistan," he claimed.

"No one can dictate [what to do] to the state," he asserted.

"The PM has asked me to contact other parliamentary parties, including the PML-N and the PPP, on the issue."

Shah 'condemns' PM's address

PPP leader Khursheed Shah earlier lashed out at Prime Minister Imran Khan over the premier's address to the nation on Aasia Bibi's acquittal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the subsequent negative reactions by some religio-political parties.

PPP leader Khursheed Shah criticises PM Khan over what he called mishandling TLP protest. ─ DawnNewsTV
PPP leader Khursheed Shah criticises PM Khan over what he called mishandling TLP protest. ─ DawnNewsTV

"I strongly condemn the prime minister's address to the nation. The chief executive of the state should not have said what he said," remarked Shah, adding that he could not even "repeat" parts of PM Khan's speech.

Last night, following the sharp reaction from Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) after Aasia Bibi's acquittal, PM Khan in a short address to the nation regretted that the demonstrators had termed the chief justice “liable to be killed”.

Declaring that the elements inciting people against the judiciary and army just to enlarge their vote bank were not serving the cause of Islam, the premier had warned the groups that had mounted protests to desist from confronting the state.

Shah said that the PM had repeated the words uttered by the leaders of TLP, which were not shown by the media. "The kind of language used against institutions cannot be repeated."

"He [PM Khan] told the whole world what the media was hiding; it was good that media was not showing all this [protests] as they have the sense that it will not be good for the country. But social media is showing everything".

Further criticising PM Khan over his address, Shah said that yesterday, the tone of the premier was aggressive.

"There was violence in his tone. You cannot bring peace with this tone," he added.

The former opposition leader asked PM Khan to come to the parliament prior to his trip to China. The premier is scheduled to depart tonight.

'Shah's speech full of hypocrisy'

In reply, Federal Minister for Higher Education Shafqat Mahmood called Shah's speech full of hypocrisy.

"Khursheed Shah condemned Imran Khan's speech but did not condemn those people who are challenging the writ of the state," pointed out Mahmood. "Instead of praising the prime minister for taking a bold stand, he is criticising him."

"The prime minister is not in the house but yesterday, he addressed 200 million people of this country directly. I condemn Khursheed Shah for using this matter for small political gains.

"Imran khan has categorically stated that the writ of the state would be established at any cost. It is the duty of the government to implement the top court's verdicts. Yet, people are doing politics over the court's verdict," said Mahmood.

'PM's tone, body language aggressive'

On his turn, PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique agreed with Shah over the PM's 'tone', saying: "We believe that Imran Khan's body language and tone was aggressive during his address."

"Today, you [PM Khan] are saying that blocking roads is not an appropriate action but yesterday, you were giving calls to the people to block roads and lock down cities."

According to Rafique, "the religious card which had been used by the PTI against the previous PML-N government" was now being used against the former.

'We need our PM to do his job'

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also addressed the NA today, regretting that Prime Minister Imran Khan ─ who is also the interior minister ─ was not present in Parliament today.

"What steps are being taken to maintain law and order? What steps are being taken to protect our judges? What steps are being taken to protect Aasia Bibi?" he asked. "There is no one here to answer our questions."

"My grandfather, my uncles, my mother, my governor Punjab, my federal minister for minorities were all assassinated," he said. "I appeal to all political parties to show some responsibility. We cannot afford any more tragedies."

"We need our prime minister, we need our interior minister, to do his job," he added.

"I do not share some of our opposition party members' criticisms of the prime minister's speech. I expected him to deliver a speech today along the lines of what he said yesterday, and for me to be able say: Qadam barhayen, Imran Khan, hum tumharay saath hain (Go on, Imran Khan, we are with you). We are with democracy, we are with justice, and we are with rule of law."

"The PTI-led government, particularly the prime minister and the interior minister, needs to take his responsibility seriously and this house seriously," he concluded.

'What action has govt taken against inciteful statements?'

PML-N leader and former provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah raised questions over what action the government was taking regarding inciteful statements issued by protesters against members of the judiciary and military.

"PTI members are praising the PM for his bravery," Sanaullah said, referring to the premier's address to the nation.

"Can the interior minister tell us what action the government has taken after such announcements? If no action has been taken yet, then which rule of law is the government talking about?" he asked.

Sanaullah pointed out that the Aasia Bibi case had been pending before the court for nine years. Had the case been decided in 2009 or 2010, the country would not have been facing this situation today, he claimed.

The PML-N leader also stressed the need to review the causes for the increase in extremism and terrorism in the country. He said the political leadership needed to sit together and discuss and review the factors and policy under which the first mujahideen were created and then declared terrorists.

Speaker Asad Qaiser administered oath to newly elected MNA and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif was also in attendance during today's session.

The session will resume on Friday at 10:30am.