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• Govt agreement with protesters likened to 1971 surrender by Gen Niazi
• ‘Has Aasia Bibi been released as per SC order or is she still in jail as per agreement?’ asks opposition member

ISLAMABAD: Opposition and treasury members were up in arms against each other in the National Assembly on Monday over the handling of protests against Aasia Bibi’s acquittal, with the former criticising the government for entering into a deal with those protesting against the Supreme Court order and the latter terming it the best document to bring the country out of an imbroglio.

The situation worsened so much that Speaker Asad Qaiser ordered the sergeant-at-arms to physically expel Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker Syed Rafiullah and Abdul Majeed Khan of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) from the house and abruptly adjourned the sitting till Tuesday morning in order to avoid a possible scuffle between the two legislators.

Things turned ugly when PTI members kicked up a rumpus to protest against PPP lawmaker Shazia Marri’s remarks that the agreement between the government and the protesters was a “surrender document” and likened it to the 1971 surrender by Gen Niazi leading to the separation of East Pakistan. The opposition often calls the PTI chief by his full name Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan, who was immediately given the floor by the speaker to respond, objected to Ms Marri’s remarks and asked her to desist from ridiculing the whole Niazi tribe for an individual’s act. The minister said it was true that Gen Niazi had surrendered before the Indian troops but there were other Niazis in the country who were rendering great services and sacrifices for the nation.

Speaker Qaiser gave a ruling stating that no lawmaker would be allowed to “ridicule any tribe or clan” in future.

However, Ms Marri insisted that she was actually mentioning the name of Gen Niazi, who had surrendered before India and that she would continue to do so.

When a number of PTI legislators stood up to protest and did not allow her to speak, the PPP MNA asked them as to why they had not shown a similar courage while talking to those (protesters) who had besieged the country for three consecutive days.

Earlier, former prime minister and newly-elected MNA of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi criticised the government for striking a deal “in the darkness of night” with the protesters, two days after the prime minister’s announcement that the government would deal with the protesters with an iron hand.

He said the nation had come to know through the prime minister’s televised address as to what kind of language had been used by the protesters against army officers and judges.

Terming the agreement “controversial”, he said the opposition was expecting that the PM or the interior minister would come to the house to apprise them about the situation, but the government’s attitude towards national issues seemed to be “non-serious”.

Defence Minister Pervez Khattak said it was on the opposition’s recommendations that the government did not use force.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri, who is also a signatory to the agreement between the government and the leadership of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), defended the deal. He said the protests were a matter of concern for both the government and the opposition and called for devising a long-term policy to prevent such incidents in future. He said the government had nothing to do with the SC decision, but the PTI government would defend the blasphemy laws at every forum.

Mr Qadri said the prime minister during his visit to China was constantly in contact with them and he had also instructed them to resolve the issue peacefully.

He said the previous PML-N government had also signed a deal with the TLP protesters though after getting resignation from its minister. He said the PTI government succeeded in striking a deal within three days.

Reading out the five-point agreement, he said it would be wrong to say that the state had surrendered.

PML-N’s MNA Rana Sanaullah said the protesting group was brought into politics by ‘some forces’ against PML-N candidate Kulsoom Nawaz during the by-election in NA-120. He said the same people were allowed to field candidates in every constituency in the July 25 election. “Who had brought them into politics?” he asked.

“Those forces were behind them (protesters) who had interviewed you at the time of award of party tickets in the elections,” the PML-N lawmaker responded when some PTI members asked him to identify the forces.

“Those forces were behind these groups who brought people from southern Punjab to Banigala and bring them to PTI-fold,” he added amid noisy protest by the treasury members.

Responding to the comment about the previous such agreement, he said he did not want to speak on the matter further as the former PM, Mr Abbasi, would explain “whether we had done the agreement or it was imposed on us”.

He said the PM in his speech had categorically claimed that writ of the state would be established at all costs, but the government took a U-turn and entered into a deal with the protesters.

Mr Sanaullah asked the government to disclose whereabouts of Aasia Bibi. “Has Aasia Bibi been released as per the SC order or she is still in jail as per the agreement?” he asked but nobody from the government side responded.

The minister of state for parliamentary affairs said the leadership of the protesters had disowned those who had damaged public and private properties, saying that the government would take all those to task who had carried out sabotage activities.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2018