ISLAMABAD, Feb 15: President Gen Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and the federal cabinet on Wednesday issued stern warning to ‘hidden hands’ behind incidents of violence, arson and destruction of shops and businesses in the country taking advantage of the public sentiments against the blasphemous cartoons issue.
The federal cabinet condemned the publication of the blasphemous material in western newspapers and asked them to offer apology to the Ummah and ensure that such acts would not be repeated in the name of freedom of expression.
The cabinet expressed grave concern over involvement of certain elements in arson, loot and destruction of some foreign business establishments.
Briefing newsmen, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that the elements who were playing with sentiments of the true lovers of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), were in fact trying to disrupt peace, which was essential for the forthcoming visit of US President George Bush to Pakistan and President Musharraf’s visit to China.
For the cabinet, he said, it was unthinkable that true lovers of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) could kill fellow believers or destroy their property, adding that only such elements could be involved in acts of violence who wanted to serve their vested interests.
On the issue of the cartoons, he said the government had taken a clear stand and the president, the prime minister and the cabinet condemned them in strongest terms and initiated steps to seek apology from the countries concerned and assurance that such acts would not be repeated.
The government of Norway, Shaikh Rashid said, had already offered public apology while other European countries had issued appeals for restraint and expressed regrets over the incident which had hurt the sentiments of the Muslim world.
He said that demonstrators in Punjab had violated the word they had given to provincial minister Raja Basharat and indulged in acts of violence at the behest of some ‘hidden hands’.
Responding to a question about a recent meeting of politicians, which reportedly discussed a proposal to stage protest demonstrations on the arrival of President Bush, he said the ‘ill-informed’ people did not know the importance of the occasion as extremely significant discussions would take place and important decisions on various regional issues, including Kashmir, were expected during the visit.
Answering a question about a possible US role in the settlement of Kashmir issue, the minister said President Musharraf had already asked the US to mediate in the dispute and he would certainly take up the matter with Bush and “a breakthrough on Kashmir is possible.”
The cabinet ratified the landmark South Asian Free Trade Agreement and linked its successful implementation to effective steps by India for resolving the long-standing Kashmir issue.
Premier Aziz said Pakistan wanted peace with India but at the same time, it would like that the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir was addressed and settled in line with aspirations of the people of Kashmir.
About Pakistan’s position on the Hamas victory in Palestine elections, he said Pakistan had said that a representative government was more competent to take the peace process forward.
When asked about the resurfacing of the president’s uniform controversy, the minister said there were still 22 months remaining when the issue would come up for discussion.
The cabinet also discussed the Hangu bomb blast, condemned the incident and warned that such outrageous acts could not be condoned because they were aimed at “defaming our religion, which teaches tolerance.” The prime minister informed the cabinet that the federal government had helped the NWFP government in restoring law and order and maintaining peace in Hangu.
The cabinet expressed its satisfaction over the steps that provincial governments were taking to ease the situation. It was decided that 11 most essential items, including sugar and flour, should be provided to outlets of the Utility Stores Corporation in abundance, instead of selling less important items.
The minister admitted that delayed payments to farmers by sugar mill owners had caused a decline in sugarcane production, which eventually hit the sugar output. The cabinet approved the signing of an agreement on cooperation between Uzbekistan and Pakistan.
Ex-post-facto approval was granted for entering into negotiations and signing of an extradition treaty with the UK. Ex- post-facto approval was also given for the signing of an agreement on security cooperation with Yemen.
The cabinet also ratified the Saarc limited multilateral agreement on avoidance of double taxation and mutual administrative assistance in tax matters. An agreement between Pakistan and Brunei for avoidance of double taxation and prevention of financial evasion with respect to taxes on income was also approved by the cabinet.
Implementation of integrated cargo / container programme in Pakistan and the US was also approved.
Negotiations on an investment agreement with Kuwait, signing of an accord on cooperation with Kenya and setting up of a regulatory authority for private educational institutions in Islamabad were also approved.
The cabinet approved in principle the establishment of the Shifa Tameer-e-Millat Medical University at Islamabad in private sector.