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ISLAMABAD: Just a day after the National Assembly witnessed a rumpus over the handling of the violent protests against Aasia Bibi’s acquittal in a blasphemy case, the government and the opposition continued to trade allegations on the issue in the Senate on Tuesday.

While a motion under Rule 218 was taken up for discussion on the foreign and economic issues being faced by the country, the upper house of parliament agreed on former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani’s proposal to deliberate on law and order in the wake of recent protests by a religious group.

“We all stand united on matters of national interest but the tumult in the streets that forced the country to a standstill for three days necessitates a well-thought-out action, not compromising deals, lest we drive ourselves towards a point of no return,” said parliamentary leader of the PPP in the Senate and former leader of the opposition in the house Sherry Rehman.

She said the PPP despite being the opposition did not shy away from extending support to the government so that it could provide protection to the horror-stricken people. However, she regretted, while the writ of the state was being openly challenged, the government was busy in calling the opposition plunderers and traitors. “The government needs to wake up. You would not be able to run this country unassisted. It hurts to see the writ of the state being openly challenged. But the government is so busy calling us traitors that it has lost focus on those out on the streets,” she remarked.

Interior ministry asks top political leaders to restrict their movements, claims JUI-F

While defending the handling of the violent protesters, Minister for Communi­cations Murad Saeed said the government did not want repeat of Model Town and Lal Masjid incidents. “We all need to collectively find out a solution to such problems,” he added.

The minister disclosed that the interior ministry had received footage of the property damaged during the recent protests. He claimed that action was under way against those who set vehicles on fire on motorways and highways.

He also defended the 126-day sit-in staged by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf against the PML-N government in 2014. He said the Constitution guaranteed the right to hold peaceful protests.

PML-N Senator Pir Sabir Shah said the reaction to the acquittal of Aasia Bibi in the blasphemy case was “natural”.

He said it was “inappropriate” to put vehicles on fire, loot people and create problems for commuters. He said the remarks made against the military and the judiciary were also “not good”.

He, however, insisted that convicting some clerics on a contempt of court charge was not a solution to the problem. He said that while the opposition was trying to cool things down, efforts were afoot to worsen the situation after a ‘failed visit’ of the prime minister to China.

Murad Saeed accused the opposition of trying to make Pakistan’s relations with friendly countries controversial. He insisted that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects would be completed within the stipulated time frame.

Sherry Rehman said the ‘tsunami of inflation’ had made the life of people difficult. “If there are any compulsions, please tell parliament. What promises have been made with other countries? What are the terms which could not be accepted six weeks ago but have been accepted now? What IMF package is the government going to opt for?” she asked.

The PPP senator observed that the stringent conditions which were expected to flow from the IMF package had already been met by the government in the form of ‘gas bomb’ and ‘petrol bomb’.

Murad Saeed blamed the previous rulers for the economic mess. He regretted that the circular debt had reached an alarming level of Rs1.2 trillion and said that instead of following the principle of merit, favourites had been appointed to key positions, which ruined state institutions. He said the institutions were free and action would be taken against the corrupt.

Despite the Senate chairman’s ruling that the conduct of the judges could not be discussed in the house under the law, senators from Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) continued to criticise the apex court’s judgement.

Maulana Attaur Rahman of the JUI-F said the court by acquitting Aasia Bibi had committed “contempt of the country” that had been carved out in the name of Islam. “Someday these judges will settle in the United States or Europe, but we will stay here,” the JUI-F leader added.

He said the interior ministry had written letters to top political leaders, asking them to restrict their movement due to security threats. He demanded that security be provided to all top leaders.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2018