• Ex-minister demands release of ‘political prisoners’, withdrawal of cases against party members
• NA witnesses verbal skirmishes over issue of ‘military’s role’ in politics

ISLAMABAD: The opposition PTI on Tuesday signalled willingness to engage in reconciliation talks with the ruling coalition, but only if certain tough conditions, including withdrawal of all cases against founding party chairman Imran Khan, were met.

The offer was made by a couple of lawmakers belonging to PTI in the National Assembly during a debate on President Asif Zardari’s address to a joint sitting of parliament as the house for the second consecutive day witnessed verbal skirmishes with members accusing each other of seeking military’s support and undermining democratic institutions.

“Invitations for talks have come from Rana Sanaullah, the political adviser to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif …. as well as President Asif Zardari. I want to put this before the house on behalf of PTI, as to when Imran Khan has refused to hold negotiations?” said PTI’s Ali Muhammad Khan while taking part in the debate.

“We believe that if Pakistan is to be put on the right track, then we [the politicians] will have to make decisions. We do not need any broker, dealer or individual who brings us to sit together,” he said, adding that when they would take their fight outside parliament, “then the Supreme Court will come into action, and Pindi [a reference to GHQ] and Aabpara [a reference to the ISI head office] and many other forces will come into action”, said Mr Khan, who served as the parliamentary affairs minister during the previous PTI government.

He asked the speaker to take initiative in this regard, stating that their first point was the release of Imran Khan and other “political prisoners” as well as withdrawal of all “political cases”.

Mr Khan said he was not defending the atrocities committed in the past, adding that everyone required to speak the truth. He said he was ashamed of his grandfather’s mistake of joining Gen Ayub Khan’s cabinet and Gen Ziaul Haq’s Majlis-i-Shoora, adding that Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s grandfather was also a member of Gen Ayub’s cabinet.

The PTI MNA also mentioned the arrest of Nawaz Sharif by Gen Musharraf, saying they could not support such an action. He said Imran Khan was being punished like his predecessors when they tried to make independent decisions.

Quoting from the Quaid-i-Azam’s speech, he stated that the military should be subservient to civilians. “If you [army] will remain within your [constitutional] limits, we will salute you and if you will come here [in politics], then there will be problems and protests,” he added.

Another PTI MNA, Ali Sarfaraz, not only demanded release of all the PTI activists and leaders, but also asked the government to provide an environment conducive to talks by handing them over the “stolen mandate” of people.

Call for apology

Dr Farooq Sattar of MQM-P recalled that there was a time when Imran Khan used to threaten the then opposition by stating that he was on the same page with the “establishment” and asked the PTI to apologise over its past role.

Treasury members, including PPP’s Khursheed Shah and PML-N’s Hanif Abbasi, talked about political victimisation of the opponents under the PTI government, stating that they wished Ali Muhammad Khan to have delivered a similar speech when he was the minister.

The house saw rumpus during the speeches of PTI’s Shahid Khattak and Hanif Abbasi when the two criticised each other’s leadership and made some personal remarks.

Some agitating women members of PPP were seen rushing towards the opposition benches when Mr Khattak called Asif Zardari “Mr 10 per cent”, a reference to allegations against the PPP leader of receiving kickbacks and commissions. Mr Khattak alleged that the women members had physically attacked him and asked Deputy Speaker Ghulam Mustafa Shah, who was in the chair, to take notice.

Opposition members also “condemned” Defence Minister Khaw­a­­ja Asif for the language he used against the members on Monday.

Opposition Leader Omar Ayub termed Mr Asif’s remarks about former military dictator Ayub Khan and his family as “unwarranted”.

He said his grandfather Field Marshal Ayub Khan was the country’s president and a part of history, stating that the 1958 martial law had been imposed by former president Iskander Mirza. “This is a historic fact”.

The house will meet again on Wednesday at 11am.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2024

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