Scuffle in assembly triggers protests in AJK

Published October 4, 2022
PML-N activists protest outside an under-construction building, belonging to ex-AJK PM Raja Farooq Haider in Muzaffarabad, on Monday.—Dawn
PML-N activists protest outside an under-construction building, belonging to ex-AJK PM Raja Farooq Haider in Muzaffarabad, on Monday.—Dawn

MUZAFFARABAD: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Legislative Assembly witnessed pandemonium on Monday after an altercation between Law Minister Sardar Faheem Akhtar Rabbani and former premier Raja Farooq Haider in the house, prompting the chair to adjourn the session until Wednesday and triggering violent street protests.

While a semblance of normalcy returned a few hours later after Prime Minister Sardar Tanveer Ilyas and Law Minister Rabbani — through a voice clip and a video statement — tried to pacify the situation, ex-premier Haider said a decision about whether to pardon the minister would be taken by the combined opposition.

It all began after Question Hour, when Speaker Anwaarul Haq declared a privilege motion by leader of the opposition Chaudhry Latif Akbar to be in order and allowed him to speak on it.

Mr Akbar said he had returned for the seventh time to the assembly where previously he had the honour to sit along with towering Kashmiri leaders such as K.H. Khurshid, Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, Sardar Ibrahim Khan, Hayat Khan and others from whom he had learnt a lot. Continuing, he said, though the difference of opinion always prevailed in AJK’s politics but never had anyone made personal attacks on their opponents.

Law minister hurls mobile phone at ex-PM, later apologises

He said a decision to move a no-trust resolution against PM Ilyas was made by the combined opposition, but he was shocked at the way he had hurled “below the belt” comments and unfounded allegations on him during a media talk, and he wanted a thorough probe into the accusations against him through his privilege motion.

On this, the law minister maintained on a point of order that something that had not taken place in the house did not amount to a breach of the privilege of any member.

As Mr Akbar retorted with comments that he knew how and where Mr Ilyas had pumped money to grab this slot, most of the treasury benches rose from their chairs in protest against the remarks. Imitating, the opposition members also rose from their seats to express solidarity with the leader of the opposition.

The chair ordered the members to retire to their seats and maintain order. As the sedentary law minister continued to voice his opposition to the motion, Mr Haider taunted him in a way that rubbed him the wrong way.

In a fit of rage, the minister tossed a mobile phone at Mr Haider, saying he [Mr Haider] had no right to talk to him in this tone. He then tried to rush towards Mr Haider, but was prevented from doing so by his colleagues.

This provoked noisy commotion in the house. Except for a female lawmaker, almost all members left their seats, some trying to scuffle with others amid shouts of abuses and others trying to pacify them. Some opposition activists from the hardly 2.5-foot-high visitors’ gallery also jumped in the hall but were pushed back by the sergeants at arms.

Realising the gravity of the situation, the chair adjourned the session till 10:30am on Tuesday. However, in a revised order it was later deferred till 10:30am on Wednesday.

Protests

As the news of the rumpus at the assembly went viral on social media, PML-N workers, mostly from the tribe of Mr Haider, took to the streets to protest.

They blocked roads at many points by burning tyres and placing other obstacles causing great deal of inconvenience to the general public.

A group of protesters also made their way to the office of the law minister in the civil secretariat, in what was a serious security breach, and vandalised it.

In the meantime, AJK PM Ilyas, who was in Islamabad, released an audio message wherein he regretted the incident in the assembly “on the spur of the moment.”

He said Mr Haider was among the senior parliamentarians, whom he considered as elder brother and had always held in high esteem, something he rightly deserved.

“I have also spoken to Raja Sahib and offered him apologies which he has kindly accepted. Both of us have agreed to de-escalate and defuse the situation and I call upon workers from all parties to follow the decision of their leaders.”

Minister’s apology

Separately, Mr Rabbani also released a brief video message on the incident that occurred in the assembly. “When I presented legal points on Mr Akbar’s privilege motion, Mr Haider repeatedly provoked me and I tossed a mobile phone at him in a fit of rage,” he said.

“I feel I should not have done that because Mr Haider is a contemporary of my late father [former minister Sardar Akhtar Hussain Rabbani] and I offer him my apologies,” he added.

Luncheon reception

When legislators from both sides were heading to the President House to attend a luncheon reception hosted by acting president Chaudhry Anwarul Haq in the honour of visiting US Ambassador Donald Blome, reporters asked Mr Haider if he had forgiven the law minister. He said at the time that a decision to this effect would be taken by the combined opposition. However, he later visited Chattar Chowk from where he asked the protesting PML-N legislators to lift the blockade from all roads.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2022

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