ISLAMABAD: At a substantial cost to the state, a National Assembly session called for 19 days was dismissed dubiously on its opening day on Monday after just two hours and that too were hit by a journalists’ boycott over alleged intimidation by political forces, mainly in Karachi. The house was scheduled to remain in session until Sept 30, but a business advisory committee cited floods in the country as the reason for its sudden decision to have it prorogued by a presidential order after a brief sitting.
That spared the house expected fireworks over the affairs of violence-plagued Karachi, though some leading lawmakers did touch the issue at the start of the sitting, only to be boycotted by journalists, whose press gallery committee directed its members not to report the proceedings for their print or electronic media organisations during the period of their walkout.
The speeches ignored by the media after the house met late by about two hours included those of Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Interior Minister Rehman Malik. The same fate met an earlier presentation of the terms of reference prepared by a sub-committee for an all-party committee mandated by the house in its last session in August to probe the causes of violence in Karachi and Balochistan and make its recommendations.
The journalists ended the boycott after talks with Information and Broadcasting Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan and an earlier assurance by the interior minister to address their concerns.
The journalists’ committee did not publicly name the parties that it said were the sources of threats being faced by journalists in performing their professional functions, but the protest seemed mainly aimed at the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, particularly about the coverage of, or comments on, a 3-1/2-hour news conference by MQM leader Altaf Hussain in London on Friday that was shown live by most private television channels in the country.
But the information minister told the house after a meeting with a delegation of journalists that the protesters had concerns about the attitude of both the MQM and the government-allied Awami National Party that she asked the two parties to address.
Dutifully, MQM deputy parliamentary leader Haider Abbas Rizvi and ANP’s senior member Pervez Khan Advocate assured the house of their respective parties’ commitment to press freedom, while Mr Rizvi denied any MQM role in the discontinuance of a Karachi-based television channel’s talk show immediately after the MQM leader’s news conference.
Monday’s premature prorogation of the house could cost the national exchequer millions of rupees in extra half a month’s salary to more than 1,000 assembly staff and air tickets and allowances for 342 lawmakers without the scheduled business being conducted.
The Senate also began its new session on Monday afternoon that faced an uncertain future after the National Assembly’s business advisory committee announced the prorogation decision “owing to the flood situation in the country”. But the upper house decided against following suit immediately.
A National Assembly press release said the advisory committee decided that the house would be convened on Oct 3 for the next session, which will continue until Oct 25.
In response of some members who raised the issue, the interior minister, quoting information received from Afghan authorities, told the house that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had personally taken notice of the kidnapping of some 30 schoolchildren from Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal area early this month allegedly by Pakistani Taliban based in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar and that Kabul had sent some mediators there to try get the boys released.
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