“This is a question of the country’s security, over which there can be no compromise,” the prime minister said. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told a mournful National Assembly after the assassination of his minorities affairs minister on Wednesday his government would make a new strategy to combat religious extremism in consultation with parliament and military leadership.

As suggested by him, Speaker Fehmida Mirza set Thursday for a National Assembly debate on the killing of minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, by gunmen on an Islamabad street, and the prime minister said he would also meet leaders of parliamentary parties and convene a meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC), which includes armed forces’ chiefs.

“This (consultative process) will help formulate a strategy to deal with extremists who are spreading (religious) hatred and defaming Pakistan in the world (by their activities),” Mr Gilani said after chairing a meeting of his cabinet, which discussed the second assassination of a senior government functionary in the capital within two months.

As a mark of mourning, the lower house discarded its agenda for the day and adjourned after two minutes’ silence in memory of one of its members and a brief speech by the prime minister, who praised what he called Mr Bhatti’s “work for inter-faith harmony” and said: “Whoever are culprits or whoever are responsible (for the murder), they will be brought to justice.”

“This is a question of the country’s security, over which there can be no compromise,” the prime minister said after announcing his plans to have a meeting of leaders of parliamentary parties and one with the policy-making DCC, for which no dates were immediately given.

But despite the prime minister’s apparently strong resolve to combat terror, there seemed to be a widespread concern about the efficiency of the capital’s security arrangements, which were penetrated so blatantly to easily target a second figure from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party over the controversial blasphemy law.

And, during Thursday’s debate, lawmakers are likely to air these concerns and raise questions about claims Interior Minister Rehman Malik has been making about the efficacy of police and other agencies he controls.

Wednesday’s was the National Assembly’s second mournful sitting after one on January 4, when then Punjab governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by one of his own police guards outside a café in Islamabad and the house adjourned after saying a prayer for him.

THREE REMAIN SEATED: But many in the house and the galleries were surprised to see three bearded members of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman remaining seated in their chairs when the rest of lawmakers stood up to observe two minutes’ silence for Mr Bhatti.

There was no immediate explanation what motivated the JUI back-benchers, in the absence of their party leader, to violate a parliamentary etiquette, and a directive given by the chair, in agreement with some voices raised in the house, that members stand up to pay a silent tribute to their assassinated colleague.

Some other religious figures on the opposition benches did rise in their seats.