• Asif says parliament did not endorse ‘faulty’ decision
• Sana asks military to take house into confidence on ‘way forward’
• Senators seek review of Afghan, anti-terror policies
• PM urges politicians to end bickering as militants want to ‘reverse’ gains

ISLAMABAD: A day after 100 people perished in Peshawar, lawmakers at the federal legislature regretted the decision to enter into dialogue with militants and resettle them in the country during the previous PTI regime, calling it a “faulty” move which was “never endorsed” by parliament.

In their policy statements, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah referred to in-camera briefings given to parliamentarians by the military leadership during the tenure of the PTI government, following the fall of Kabul.

The defence minister said: “A message was given that talks could be held with them [the militants].” He clai­med that the briefings had remained “inconclusive” and they were only informed about the decisions that were already taken and parliament never endorsed them.

“How could one expect that those who had never seen peace in their life would live peacefully,” said Mr Asif as the house formally began a debate on the suicide attack.

“Decisions made some two years ago had not been endorsed by this house. We were only told in the briefings that this decision had [already] been made. Now, who will be held accountable for the bloodshed?” he asked.

“We are all members of parliament. Are we sovereign? We are a mortgaged nation. The decisions are not in the hands of the nation,” he said, stressing: “We must put our house in order. There is a need for introspection. Why these people were brought here [to Pakistan]?” he asked.

The minister also criticised the decision to become part of the Afghan Jihad in the 1980s, and later, the US-led ‘War on Terror’ post 9/11.

He said: “We ourselves sowed the seeds of terrorism when the Russian troops entered Afghanistan and we provided our services to the US on rent.”

“We were very fond of launching a jihad,” quipped Mr Asif.

He regretted that Pakistan had always acted as a “stooge” for the world powers, but today the country was standing alone in the fight against terrorism.

‘8,000 militants’

Mr Sanaullah said the previous regime told them that there were some 8,000 militants and that they should be given an opportunity to surrender before the law as some 25,000 family members, including the children, were also associated with them.

The decision might have been made in good faith but this policy proved wrong, he said while referring to the recent surge in terror attacks. The minister claimed the PTI government released thousands of the militants from jails, including those who had been sentenced to death.

“There is a need that for the prime minister and the military leadership should take this house into confidence. There should be a debate in parliament,” he said, while asking the lawmakers to suggest a way forward.

He said the military leadership should place facts and figures before the house and added that the prime minister and the army chief would “certainly” come to the house and brief this house which would provide them a “way forward”.

The National Assembly, which met after a two-week recess, also witnessed an emotional speech by MNA from Peshawar, Noor Alam Khan, who protested the absence of the premier and the non-serious attitude of some of Punjab’s MNAs.

“Unless there is bloodshed in Lahore or Punjab, these people will not get serious,” said Mr Khan, pointing towards some backbenchers who were busy chit-chatting.

“I feel that I am a second-rate citizen of Pakistan,” said Mr Khan while referring to an incident where the security personnel did not allow him to enter the Red Zone area in Peshawar without proving his identity.

“Afghans are roaming everywhere and Pakistanis are facing difficulties and are asked to show their identity cards,” he claimed.

The interior minister, however, responded to Mr Khan’s speech and said terrorism was a collective issue, which could be rooted out through forging unity and joint efforts. He claimed that in 99 per cent of incidents, the terrorists didn’t belong to Punjab.

‘Revisit counter-terrorism policy’

Meanwhile, the bombing resonated in Senate as well where lawmakers urged the need to revisit the counter-terrorism and Afghan policies. PPP leader Raza Rabbani demanded a new consensus as he called out the former government for its plan to rehabilitate the banned TTP.

The senator regretted that “good Taliban” had been allowed to cross into Pakistan along with arms.

He said parliament and the nation were not taken into confidence over dialogue with the Tehreek-i-Taliban and the subsequent ceasefire. He agreed with his colleagues in NA that parliament had never endorsed talks with the TTP and also raised questions over “outsourcing” the dialogue to a jirga.

About the reports of a joint session of parliament on Feb 8, he demanded that the session be devoted to the counterterrorism policy and added a meeting of the Senate’s Committee of the Whole should be held for threadbare discussion on the security situation.

Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed and Senator Tahir Bizenjo also sought revision of policies pertaining to terrorism and Afghanistan.

PTI Senator Saifullah Abro chided the ruling coalition for accusing former premier Imran Khan of re-launching TTP and said there should be no point-scoring on the issue of terrorism. In the same breath, however, he sought an inquiry into the prior knowledge of the KP governor about the law and order situation in the province.

In response to Mr Abro, PML-N’s Irfan Siddiqui recalled that the TTP had named PTI chief Imran Khan as a member of its negotiating team when a decision to pursue peace talks with the militant group had been taken in February 2014. Senator Rana Maqbool called for a diplomatic offensive with reference to Afghanistan.

In a tweet, PM Shehbaz Sharif said that the militants wanted to “reverse” gains against terrorism. He urged political unity amid the terror wave.

A source in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said the federal cabinet was meeting today (Wednesday) in which the issue of rising militancy will be discussed in detail.

Separately, US National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson termed the increase in Peshawar deaths “tragic and heartbreaking”. The US official reminded all that “terrorism is indefensible, and to target worshippers is unconscionable.”

Syed Irfan Raza in Islamabad and Anwar Iqbal in Washington also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2023

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