ISLAMABAD, Feb 23: The government announced in the National Assembly on Wednesday that students going abroad on scholarship and artistes would have to obtain no-objection certificates (NOC) from the interior ministry. Interior Minister Rehman Malik gave no reason for the decision, but it has been taken apparently because of the embarrassing episode involving singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in India and problems faced by students on scholarship in Cuba.

Taking part in a debate on law and order moved by Privatisation Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, Mr Malik said that in future intelligence agencies would see which country was providing scholarship and for what purpose. Besides, he added, the background of all foreigners and foreign companies operating in Pakistan would be thoroughly investigated. “There is a conspiracy at work to dismember as no-one is ready to accept the reality of Pakistan’s nuclear capability,” he said, adding that both the Taliban and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi were out to destabilise the country at the behest of foreign forces.

Mr Malik warned of a disaster if political forces failed to forge unity and avoid giving “deadlines like schoolchildren”. Had the nation failed to get united on tough measures taken in Swat and Malakand this assembly would not have been there today. “We must understand the critical situation in which Egyptian Akhwans like Ayman al-Zawahiri are fighting in the region,” he added.

PPP’s Nadeem Afzal Gondal called for revisiting the country’s political culture and separating politics from religion. He said it was time for political parties to give their committed workers a chance to come forward and play their role.

He welcomed the ‘rightsizing’ of the federal cabinet and urged the army chief to take similar steps in the armed forces because the nation could not afford a large number of generals.

PML-N chief whip Sheikh Aftab Ahmed said that improving security was vital for economic development.

MQM’s Syed Asif Hasnain said terrorism and extremism were ruining the economy.

Sheikh Waqas Akram of the PMLQ said no practical steps had been taken to meet security challenges and politicians were indulging only in arguments and issuing press statements.

On a point of order, Abid Sher Ali of the PML-N strongly criticised the five-day-a-week loadshedding of gas in Punjab, especially Faisalabad, and said that hundreds of thousands of workers had lost their jobs because of closure of industrial units.

Lawmakers expressed concern over the incident of firing on the car of PPP’s Lal Chand near a toll plaza in Sindh and demanded immediate action against perpetrators. The house decided to set up a special committee to look into the matter.