ISLAMABAD, Jan 26: The government told the National Assembly on Monday it was “moving forward” in its bloody anti-terror campaign in Swat valley, but the opposition and at least one member of an allied party disputed Interior Adviser Rehman Malik’s optimistic picture.
“We are moving forward slowly and slowly,” Mr Malik said after two opposition members pointed to possible threat to the lives of some parliamentarians and other political figures from the area whose names had been mentioned in a reported new hit list of the Taliban militants, and added: “I assure the house that in two to three weeks you will see the difference.”
“It is all lies that are being told,” Pir Haider Ali Shah, a member of government ally Awami National Party (ANP) from the North-west Frontier Province, shouted to interrupt Mr Malik.
The adviser’s claim was also contested by two other opposition members before ANP president Asfandyar Wali, whose party leads the NWFP coalition government, offered an olive branch to the Swat militants after an apparent prompting by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
An angry prime minister sought an expunction of the word “lies” from the official record of the proceedings, but failed to get an order from his own Pakistan People’s Party colleague Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor, who was then chairing the house, saying the objectionable remark, made while Mr Malik had the floor with him, did “not come on record”.
In prime minister’s presence, the house also witnessed a brief uproar when some Pakistan Muslim League-N members from the NWFP protested against the allegedly insulting remarks by a senior ANP minister of the provincial government in a speech at Abbottabad town over their opposition to the ANP’s campaign to have the province named as Pakhtunkhawa.
The protests from the benches of the PML-N, which withdrew from Mr Gilani’s coalition government last year after a brief presence, came shortly before his PPP strengthened the treasury benches with the addition of 25-member Muttahida Quami Movement by taking two ministers from the Karachi-based party.
The ANP chief, who spoke after the prime minister went to his desk and had a chat with him, was able to calm down the protesters by offering an apology for the provincial minister’s reported remark and also used the occasion to talk about Swat, where he said “the situation is not the one that we want”.
“Swat is divided in two parts,” he remarked about the influence of militants who, he said, had broken a peace agreement with the provincial government after his party rejected an ultimatum by Waziristan-based Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud to quit the government.
But Mr Wali said he could embrace even those who had sought to kill him in a suicide attack last year if it could bring peace in the area and offered dialogue to Swat militant leader Maulvi Fazlullah, whose brutal campaign for the enforcement of his brand of Islam is marked by a slaughter of opponents of his ideas, a ban on female education and destruction of about 200 schools.
“I am prepared to go to Maulana Fazlullah if he agrees to stop bloodshed,” the ANP president said.
Interior Adviser Malik spoke of a turnaround from what had been a “very bad situation in Swat” after what he called a return to peace in other trouble spots such as Kurram, Khyber, Bajaur and Mohmand agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
“Here we are not playing politics but defending Pakistan,” he said, adding the government opted to fight back rather than hand over the area to the Taliban.But PML-N’s Ayaz Amir questioned Mr Malik’s claims of successes and asked: “Why don’t we admit that the Swat Taliban’s writ was stronger than the writ of the government of Pakistan?”
He said the situation was getting from bad to worse and said: “If this is moving forward then what is moving backward?”
Pakistan Muslim League-Q NWFP president Amir Muqam said he thought he was “seeing a dream” when Mr Malik was speaking about progress against the militants and said his personal employees “telephoned me today from my hujra (guest house) to tell me of bombs falling”.
“There is not even one per cent government writ,” he said about Swat and asked the interior adviser to realise “ground realities”.
The house could not take up any item on the day’s agenda after the question hour before being adjourned until 10am on Tuesday, comparatively early, apparently because of the swearing in of four new federal ministers – two each from the MQM and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam.