ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly was outraged across party lines on Tuesday by the killing of at least 13 people in a sectarian attack near Quetta, with some government allies demanding that the interior minister and the Balochistan chief minister resign and the federal government impose governor’s rule in the troubled province.
But the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), reserved its more bitter attack of the day against the PPP-led coalition government over power cuts, with one party member threatening a protest outside the Presidency before staging a second walkout in as many days of its protest agitation.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which had stayed away from Monday’s walkout like other smaller opposition parties, joined this time, though one PML-N member from Punjab, Rashid Akbar Khan Nawani, stayed behind in the house while his other colleagues marched out, ignoring a challenge from PPP’s Jamshed Dasti to “show moral courage” to listen to his response and a jibe: “They (PML-N leadership) ran away the same way after signing a deal with General Musharraf (for exile in Saudi Arabia).”
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was present in the house for some time, did not respond to the demands for resignations and governor’s rule from lawmakers of two allied parties, including a federal minister, and a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) dissident from Quetta, in speeches during an unscheduled debate, most of whose participants described the attack as target-killing of members of the Hazara Shia community as had happened in a Sept 20 attack that killed 26 Hazara pilgrims in Balochistan’s Mastung district while they were on their way to Iran.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik was not present in the house at the time when some members lambasted him and Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani for their perceived failures to maintain law and order in the province.
Notably, it was PPP’s Farah Naz Ispahani, a media adviser to President Asif Ali Zardari, who was the first to register what she called “horror” at the murder of Hazara Shias while speaking on a point of order and demand that the Balochistan chief minister and the interior minister “do something”.
Then Acting Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, who earlier rebuked members for late coming that delayed the sitting for more than an hour, gave floor to about 15 other members from various parties to speak in the same fashion before PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafiq poured scorn on the government as the only speaker on the second day of a debate on energy crisis he blamed on the present government, saying it was time to get the Presidency and the Prime Minister’s House vacated by their present occupants and threatening an unexplained showdown by his party “within this month” and protests outside parliament and “outside the Aiwan-i-Sadr”.
The usually polite Ms Ispahani, in her remarks, even had a dig at the Balochistan chief minister, saying, in a reference to his presence in the capital on Monday, that he “better sit in Quetta rather than in Islamabad”.
MQM’s Wasim Akhtar, whose party is in the process of a reconciliation dialogue with the PPP, seemed soft on the government as he reminded the provincial authorities of their responsibility to protect people’s lives, though regretting that “no notice was taken” to remedy the situation after the previous strike against Hazaras.
PPP’s Nasir Ali Shah from Quetta, who complained of facing an unexplained ill-treatment from the government for the past three years, wondered why people claiming sectarian attacks by telephone calls could not be traced in the present age of technology and demanded the imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan before walking out of the house in a protest that he said he would continue until his demand was met.
PML-N’s Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who accused the interior minister of being insensitive to people’s worries because he had no constituency to face as a senator, blamed both the federal and Balochistan governments for the law and order situation in Balochistan and ended his speech with an appeal: “For God’s sake, this government should be shaken up.”
Bushra Gohar of the government-allied Awami National Party saw the Balochistan government “least interested” in law and order as, she said, “it is known to all who is responsible” for such violence and then demanded that both the interior minister and provincial chief minister resign from their offices.
Professional and Technical Training Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Q joined the government only in May, regretted in a passionate speech that “all institutions in Pakistan have failed”, including the system of justice when little evidence against terrorists could be produced before courts, complained of lack of competent leadership in the country and remarked, rather penitentially: “Our leadership is not worth standing behind. We are behind our leaders for our interests.”
But he said he could do nothing to change the situation even if he resigned his office and despite what he called a “constraint” on speaking out as a minister, he had this message for others: “If Balochistan government cannot be run, governor’s rule be imposed there, if Sindh (government) cannot do it, governor’s rule be imposed there as well, and if the federal government cannot do it, it should resign.”
Mohammad Usman Advocate, a government-allied independent from Balochistan, said people involved in criminal activities had been given ministries there, accused unspecified federal intelligence agencies of promoting violence like the latest attack on the outskirts of Quetta, and demanded imposition of governor’s rule and association of estranged nationalist parties in the government there.
PPP’s Nadeem Afzal Gondal said target-killing of Shias could force them to, “God-forbid, look towards a foreign country” and demanded, to no avail, that the prime minister and interior minister explain in the house “why this is happening to Ahle-Tashii”.
PML-Q’s Awais Khan Leghari warned of a situation in which roads between Balochistan and Punjab could be blocked by protesters if the authorities failed to stop kidnappings from his Dera Ghazi Khan district in Punjab to Khetran area in Balochistan with alleged help from some Balochistan ministers and assembly members.
Ms Asiya Nasir of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam said the country faced a greater danger from internal chaos than from external threats, adding that non-Muslim minorities were also being targeted like Shias.
PPP’s former minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi, who survived an assassination attempt last year and who led the Fateha prayer for the Quetta shooting victims, said there was no clash between Sunnis and Shias, but “some other forces” wanted to push the country into such a confrontation as evident from attacks on Sunni shrines and mosques and Shia imambargahs.