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Govt appeases religious parties on blasphemy law

December 29, 2010

Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Action Committee Chairman, Anwar-ul-Haq Haqqani addresses press conference at Quetta press club on Wednesday. – Photo by PPI

ISLAMABAD: In a move to appease religious parties, the government told the National Assembly on Wednesday it had no mind to change the controversial anti-blasphemy law often seen misused against members of minority communities, but appeared calm against political theatrics of some volatile allies.

Religious Affairs Minister Khurshid Ahmed Shah interrupted the house proceedings to make a policy statement “with full responsibility” that the “government has no intention to repeal the anti-blasphemy law and to disown a private bill of a PPP member proposing changes in the Zia-era law to abolish a mandatory death sentence against a convict provided by it and to guard against miscarriage of justice.

The government assurance came ahead of what has been described as a countrywide “shutter down strike” called for Friday by a religious grouping seeking to protect the dignity of the holy prophet Mohammad (PBUH), or “namoos-i-risalat”.            “The government regards safeguarding ‘namoos-i-risalat’ as its responsibility and believes in it”, the minister said and, in a reference to the daft submitted by former information minister Sherry Rehman but yet to come before the house, added: “If someone has brought a private bill, it has nothing to do with the government.”

Mr Shah also assured the house that the government would not allow any wrong done to minorities, which have often complained of false accusations made against their members under a law enforced by former military dictator Gen Mohammad Zia-u-Haq as part of his controversial campaign to Islamise the Pakistani society. But he did not specify any measures to do that.

The strike call was given by a “Namoos-i-Risalat” conference held in Islamabad on Dec 15 under the auspices of Majlis-i-Tahafuz Khatam-e-Nabuwat (association for the protection of the finality of prophethood), which was also attended by the representatives of some banned religious groups operating under new names.

In other developments in the house before its adjournment until 10am on Friday, a confident-looking Prime MinisterYousuf Raza Gilani told the house that no action had yet been taken on the resignations announced by two ministers each of the JUI-F and the MQM.

Pointing out that resignations of ministers must come to him before being forwarded to President Asif Ali Zardari for a formal acceptance, Mr Gilani said: “Some of these have come to me and some have not come. When all the resignations are received, they will be sent to the president.”

The prime minister’s statement came after the chief whip of PML-Q, Riaz Hussain Pirzada, said the ministers whose resignations had been announced by their parties were still working in their office and issuing orders like appointments to government posts.

“Even today appointment orders were issued by these ministers,” he said, without specifying the ministers who did it in what he called an “ongoing political theatre”.

Two JUI ministers had resigned after their party withdrew from Prime Minister Gilani’s cabinet on Dec 14 to protest against the sacking of the party’s Science and Technology Minister Mohammad Azam Swati for alleged indiscipline and the MQM announced the resignation of its two ministers on Monday over unspecified complaints without leaving the coalition government.

Mr Gilani, who returned from a visit to Oman on Tuesday, seemed unperturbed by these developments and demand on Tuesday for his removal by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman as he rose three times in the house to respond to points raised by opposition members, including opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s call for curtailing motorcades of government functionaries like the president and the prime minister and banning private security details, and complaints by some others about deadly US drone attacks against suspected militant hideouts in Fata.

The prime minister called the drone attacks “counter-productive” and repeated his government’s demand that the US give Pakistan the drone technology and leave to it such actions against militants.

But he seemed displeased by PML-Q parliamentary leader Faisal Saleh Hayat’s reference to a WikiLeaks report of an American embassy cable quoting him as saying the Americans could continue the drone attacks and his government would only issue condemnations, and said these reports were not authentic.

Earlier, the house passed two government bills with consensus, one of them – the Pakistan Trade Control of Wild Fauna and Flora Bill – providing for control of trade in endangered species to give effect to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The other, the Pakistan Engineering Council (Amendment) Bill, which has already been passed by the Senate, gives effect to a Musharraf-era ordinance regarding what it said “accreditation of engineering qualification for the purpose of registration of engineers and to set and maintain internationally relevant standards of professional competence of engineers”.