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KARACHI: Open season on president in Sindh Assembly

August 14, 2008

KARACHI, Aug 13: The day before the celebration of the nation’s 61st independence day, the hallowed hall of the Sindh Assembly echoed with incessant criticism of retired General Pervez Musharraf as – following the Punjab and NWFP provincial assemblies – a resolution was passed during Wednesday’s session that demanded of the embattled president to either secure a vote of confidence from the electoral college, resign from the presidency or prepare to face the unceremonious music of impeachment.

Legislator after legislator fulminated against the sins – real and imagined – of President Musharraf, accusing him, among other things, of violating the Constitution, acting beyond his capacity, weakening Sindh and promoting inter-provincial discord, while some went as far as to compare the retired general with Adolf Hitler and late Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet.

But the Pakistan People’s Party’s legislators were speaking to an almost half empty house as their provincial coalition partners from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement chose to stay away from the proceedings, ending days of speculation whether the MQM would support the anti-Musharraf move or not.

The opposition – led by the Pakistan Muslim League-F’s Jam Madad Ali – consisting of the PML-F, National People’s Party and what remains of the PML-Q, also chose to abstain instead of defending Mr Musharraf in the house.

The assembly also passed three bills into law unanimously, while a fourth was indefinitely deferred.

The speeches began after Speaker Nisar Ahmed Khuhro suspended the relevant rules and Law Minister Ayaz Soomro moved the resolution against President Pervez Musharraf.

Minister for Katchi Abadis and Spatial Development Rafiq Engineer was the first to launch the anti-Musharraf assault. He said the president had violated the Constitution and harmed the judiciary and the federation. He said the situation prevailing in the country on November 3, 2007, did not warrant the imposition of emergency rule and slammed the “mini-martial law” imposed by Mr Musharraf in his then capacity as chief of the army staff. He also termed the president’s election from the assemblies in October 2007 as illegal.

As the chant of ‘Go, Musharraf, go,’ began to gather momentum, Revenue Minister Murad Ali Shah rose to speak. He said it was a great day in Sindh’s history as the resolution had brought about a change desired by the people. He added that the resolution proved that the assemblies did not want the president to stick around.

He said making Mr Musharraf take off his uniform and the current impeachment process was part of the plan chalked out by Benazir Bhutto. “The whole nation is saying ‘go, Musharraf, go.’ Please quit today,” he urged the president.

Next up in the anti-Musharraf extravaganza was provincial Minister for Culture and Tourism Sassui Palejo. She said that as the nation had been ruled by dictators for the majority of its years, the country’s social fabric had been destroyed. She added that pro-establishment forces had fanned tensions between the provinces.

“It will be Musharraf’s misfortune if he is impeached. It is better if he leaves. He should be tried for treason and face accountability. His human rights violations are worse than Hitler’s,” she said, while congratulating the PML-N and Awami National Party for supporting the impeachment move.

‘A second independence’

Information Minister Shazia Marri said that the nation would celebrate a second independence this August 14 and thanked the people of Sindh. She said Mr Musharraf had violated the army’s discipline and that she had no respect for any of his positions apart from the fact that he was a human being. “He has said his training is offensive. He has said that he has an attacking style … well … he’s attacked the people of Pakistan,” Ms Marri said.

She added that “it would have been good if our other friends would have been here,” referring to the MQM. “This resolution will save Pakistan. It is not against an individual but against authoritarianism and the spirit of tyranny.” She also criticised Mr Musharraf’s much touted theory of enlightened moderation, calling it an affront to women’s honour, while deriding the PML-Q as the “chamcha (toady) league.”

Irrigation and Power Minister Saifullah Dharejo said that during Mr Musharraf’s reign the police had been turned into a personal mafia while devolution had helped increase corruption. He said the president was guilty of “economic sabotage,” as according to him the present financial crisis was pre-planned, as was the flight of capital, so that the blame should fall on the “democratic government.”

‘Things will improve’

He also repeated the allegation first made by PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari that President Musharraf had misappropriated $700 million of US military aid. “Things will improve after Musharraf. He will end up like Pinochet.”

MPA Jam Tamachi said that when Pervez Musharraf first took power, he thought the general might do something for Pakistan, but was soon let down as nothing happened. He claimed that Mr Musharraf had given eight or nine billion rupees belonging to Sindh to Wapda as settlement for a controversial dispute over arrears, adding that while Punjab was given an experienced chief minister, first an inexperienced man was placed in charge of Sindh (Ali Mohammad Mahar) while later Arbab Rahim was brought in to “destroy the PPP.”

He added that the president’s policies had fanned differences between Sindhis and Mohajirs. Jam Tamachi advised Mr Musharraf to leave the presidency and take the slot of the PML-Q president if he was interested in politics. With a couplet, he made a poetic overture to the MQM.

Labour Minister and ANP member Amir Nawab termed the president a “small dictator” and criticised him for creating a “rubber stamp parliament.”

“Musharraf has spilt Pakhtun blood in the NWFP and Baloch blood in Balochistan. He is a sword hanging over democracy’s head.”

MPA from Thatta Humera Alwani suggested that a plaque be set up in the assembly listing the names of the members who had passed Wednesday’s resolution. “Sindh’s people can see who supports dictatorship and who supports democracy. They should remember this when voting,” she said in a barely disguised critique of the Muttahida and the opposition.

Lotas and jiyalas

Mir Ghalib Dhomki, who was elected on a PML-Q ticket but now sits with the treasury, was greeted with desk-thumping as he rose to speak. He gave the strange logic that while lotas (turncoats) should not be tolerated, whoever leaves the Q-league for “democracy” should not be called a lota, as he heaped scorn on his former party. “Ninety per cent of Pakistan’s people want Musharraf to leave,” he said, adding that he had “erased” the sign of the bicycle (the Q-league’s electoral symbol) from his record. “I am a PPP jiyala at heart. Circumstances forced me to take another path,” he said.

Deputy Speaker Shahla Raza said Sindh’s people had never bowed before oppression, while Ayaz Soomro labelled the president “Asia’s model dictator.” Senior Minister Pir Mazhraul Haq said Mr Musharraf had given the armed forces a bad name.

At 12.50pm, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah rose to speak. Though critical of the president, his speech was anchored with the sobriety of a seasoned politician, in contrast to some of the outbursts of his younger colleagues.

“It’ll be a shame if General Musharraf doesn’t listen. Yahya said the war would go on after the loss of the eastern wing. Dictators don’t listen. Musharraf is the root of all problems. Our resolution is justified,” he said.At 1.05pm, the resolution was passed with the thunderous thumping of desks and the deafening echoes of ‘go, Musharraf, go.’

Bills passed

Three bills were also passed into law during Wednesday’s session. They are: Government Bill no 5 of 2008, the Sindh Goth Abad (Housing Scheme) (Amendment) Bill 2008, aimed at amending the Sindh Goth Abad (Housing Scheme) Act, 1987; Government Bill no 6 of 2008, the Sindh Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education (Amendment) Bill, 2008, aimed at further amending the Sindh Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education Ordinance, 1972, which effectively transfers control of the boards from the governor to the chief minister and Government Bill no 7 of 2008, the Sindh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Privileges) (Amendment) Bill, 2008, which calls for the use of government guest houses and entitlement to other such facilities for former chief ministers and ministers.

Government Bill no 4 of 2008, the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Medical University Larkana Bill, was indefinitely deferred.

Though the first two bills were passed smoothly, there were some unsavoury moments witnessed between members of the ruling party as the people’s representatives bickered over the fact that government privileges should be extended to all MPAs and not just ministers.

The speaker adjourned the session – which started at 10.40am, more than an hour behind schedule – at a little after 2pm to meet again on Friday at 9am.