ISLAMABAD: The opposition Paki­stan Peoples Party has expressed concern over “behind-the-scenes consultations” within government circles regarding mainstreaming of banned organisations and called for a thorough debate on the matter in parliament.

Hours after PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari stated in Karachi that he did not trust the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) recent crackdown on banned organisations, his spokesman and Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar alleged that Prime Minister Imran Khan seemed uninterested in implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism.

Taking to Dawn here on Thursday, Mr Khokhar also took exception to the statement of federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry that the members of the banned outfits would be provided jobs and facilities to bring them into the mainstream.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, the information minister, while responding to a question about the measures being taken against the banned organisations, including Jaish-e-Mohammad, had said that under the first phase of the drive such groups would be disarmed and later they would be brought into the national mainstream.

Information minister claims govt following old plan; PML-N denies any such plan

“The information minister’s statement to provide jobs to those associated with banned organisations is surprising and a violation of NAP,” Mr Khokhar said, asking as to “who will guarantee that these people will not violate the laws of the country again?”

The PPP senator asked the government to present “its plan” of mainstreaming the banned outfits before parliament for a debate.

Responding to a question, Mr Khokhar claimed that they had come to know about some “behind-the-scenes discussions” regarding mainstreaming of banned outfits and there were talks about the IRA (Irish Republican Army) model.

“We have serious reservations over these behind-the-scenes activities,” the PPP senator said, adding that such a serious matter should be discussed in parliament and its National Security Committee. He said the nation was already paying the price of the decisions taken outside parliament. He said they had already seen as to how the efforts were made to launch a new party — Milli Muslim League.

Mr Khokhar endorsed the PPP chairman’s allegations that at least three members having association with the banned outfits were sitting in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet. He said the PPP chairman was talking about Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Interior Minister Shehryar Afridi and Finance Minister Asad Umar.

‘Thousands to be mainstreamed’

When contacted, the information minister said the plan to mainstream those people associated with the banned outfits was a very old one and even former president Asif Ali Zardari was fully aware of it.

Mr Chaudhry, who was previously associated with the PPP, said it seemed that Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Mr Khokhar were unaware of the plan which was also followed by the previous government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Mr Chaudhry said they could not put thousands of people associated with the banned outfits behind bars and there was a need to bring them into the national mainstream, but only after deweaponising them. Of course, he said, these 15,000 to 20,000 people could not be recruited in police, but at least they should have some share in the national economy so that they could also become useful citizens.

The PML-N refuted the information minister’s claim and said that no such plan was discussed or implemented during the previous government of the party. Talking to Dawn, PML-N Senator Musadik Malik, who was the official spokesman for the previous PML-N government, said it seemed Mr Chaudhry had some “confusion” as he had remained in many political parties. He said he was not aware of any scheme “to mainstream banned outfits”. However, he said that the PML-N government brought the madressahs into the mainstream through their registration.

Mr Malik said that after NAP, hundreds of thousands of people were arres­ted in a crackdown on militant outfits. Mr Malik said he personally believed that those individuals and madressah students who had no criminal record or who had not indulged in any terrorist activities should be given economic opportunities. He, however, advised the government to bring the matter to parliament, if it had any such plan.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2019