ISLAMABAD: Lashing out at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government over its “bad handling” of the protests held by the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the opposition members on Monday lodged a noisy protest in the National Assembly when Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who had been directed by Speaker Asad Qaiser to make a policy statement on the situation after the clashes between the police and the TLP activists in Lahore, asked the lawmakers to wait for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address to the nation on television.
Almost all the opposition members stood up and started shouting as soon as the interior minister first tried to make an excuse about his health and then said Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri would give a detailed statement on the floor of the house whereas the prime minister would give a policy statement on TV in a few hours.
A visibly upset Mr Ahmed immediately left the house after informing the members that the talks with the proscribed organisation were under way and that the nation would soon hear “good news”.
Before leaving the hall amid loud sloganeering by the opposition members, the interior minister said every member sitting in the house was a lover of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and no one was lagging behind the TLP people in this respect.
Interior minister leaves house without making policy statement; opposition blasts PM for preferring TV over parliament
Pakistan Peoples Party leader and former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf asked the speaker to take notice of the interior minister’s remarks, saying that he had in fact “insulted” parliament.
“If the prime minister is to give a statement, he should come here and make the speech,” Mr Ashraf said.
“Why do we have this parliament? The prime minister is answerable to this house,” he said.
“Due to incompetence and inexperience of the government, there is an infighting in the country. You are taking the country to a direction which is very dangerous,” he said, adding that the government had no realisation about the sensitivity of the matter.
“Has the government lost its senses? Does such things happen in the state of Madina? Has the government lost patience?” he asked, while criticising the government over the use of force against the TLP activists.
“Whatever you are sowing today, you and the whole country will have to reap tomorrow,” he said while pointing towards the treasury benches.
“There is complete blackout on media. The whole country is in the grip of rumours. No one knows what is happening in the country,” the PPP leader said.
“I am telling you, Mr Speaker, the government is entirely responsible for the current situation. You used to talk about media freedom. There had never been such a fascist government in the country,” he declared.
“Who had given you the authority to sign an agreement (with the TLP)? Had you brought that agreement before parliament? No one knows about the agreement and you are now bringing a resolution to the house that we are slaves of the Prophet,” he went on saying, while hinting out at the government’s plan of bringing some resolution to the house in an effort to diffuse the tension.
Amid slogans of “shame, shame”, Mr Ashraf alleged that the government had completely failed to handle the situation.
He said the interior minister had run away from the house after shifting the responsibility to the religious affairs minister “who is a gentleman”, adding that he knew it because “he (Mr Qadri) was also my religious affairs minister”.
He said the government was playing with fire. “This is a very sensitive matter. You cannot run away from your responsibility,” he added.
Mr Ashraf recalled that when he was the prime minister a similar incident had happened in Denmark, but instead of firing on the people, his government had decided to observe Youm-i-Ishq-i-Rasool (PBUH).
After Mr Ashraf’s hard-hitting speech, the religious affairs minister told the house that the government was pursuing a policy of reconciliation by keeping its door open for negotiations.
Mr Qadri told the lawmakers that the negotiations with the TLP had been in progress for the past many months on their demand to expel the French ambassador over blasphemous caricatures.
He disclosed that the government had proposed to the TLP to present its viewpoint and convince a parliamentary committee comprising representatives of all the parties and the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on its demand.
However, he said, when the negotiations were still under way, the TLP gave a call for a long march on April 20. He said the government had to take action as it was its responsibility to keep the roads and highways open for the public.
Abdul Shakoor of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl recalled that it was the same interior minister who had once incited these religious activists for violence when he was in the opposition. He called Sheikh Rashid a “murderer and a fugitive” — the remarks were later expunged by the chair — and said the minister was unable to face parliament as well as the people.
He asked the government to clearly state if it stood by France or the lovers of the Prophet.
He said 1,500 cases of blasphemy were pending in courts which was the main reason for the people to take law into their own hands.
The speaker abruptly adjourned the sitting till Thursday when the opposition members shouted down the speech of Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan.
Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2021