ISLAMABAD: Lawmakers’ outrage at fresh violence in Karachi overwhelmed parliament’s debate on Wednesday on reviewing ties with the United States, with three mainly aggrieved parties demanding, and the government promising, a stern across-the-board action against culprits.
But the joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate heard questions being raised about the credibility of Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s repeated assurances that the PPP-led governments at the centre and in Sindh were doing everything possible to check recurring violence and had no favourites to spare the arm of law.
The second day of the debate on guidelines given by a bipartisan Parliamentary Committee on National Security on reviewing strategic ties with the United States after a recent disruption was muted compared to Tuesday’s opposition onslaught against recommendations its nominees on the body had already signed.
But the government’s unprecedented move to give parliament a role in guiding foreign policy and the recommendations of the committee were applauded by a ranking government ally and a young ruling party senator against brief criticism from two opposition lawmakers, before Senator Mushahidullah Khan of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N brought up the issue of violence in Karachi, blaming the killing of a party follower on unspecified workers of the government-allied Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
MNA Khwaja Saad Rafiq of the PML-N called for more concrete steps than frequent “pakar dhakar” (detentions) to save the country’s commercial capital from the recurring violence, which he acknowledged had taken lives of people from all political parties in Karachi.
MQM’s deputy parliamentary leader Haider Abbas Rizvi, whose party lawmakers returned to the house after Tuesday’s boycott of the proceedings to protest against the killing of two party followers at the start of the new violence early in the day, said he agreed “one hundred per cent” with PML-N lawmakers’ concern and, without contradicting them, called for “across-the-board” action by the interior ministry and Sindh provincial government.
He said his party chief Altaf Hussain had given a “blank cheque” to the authorities to act against culprits without discrimination.
Senator Afrasiab Khattack of the government-allied Awami National Party (ANP) -- which often blames violence on the MQM, which in turn, denies the charge -- said there was “a pattern” in violence and urged the government “not to surrender to blackmail” and all parties to take a clear stand against the menace.
National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, chairing the proceedings at the time, also voiced concern over the situation, saying “Karachi is really burning” and showed signs of anger as she urged the interior minister to meet all the affected parties and asked -- to no avail -- about the progress of a National Assembly committee she had formed some months ago to probe causes of violence in Karachi and Balochistan.
The interior minister -- asked also by two other ANP senators, Haji Mohammad Adeel and Ilyas Bilour, to brook no political expediency -- blamed the violence mainly on what he called a conspiracy of banned militant groups who, he said, were receiving weapons from Afghanistan via Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
He said he had directed police and Rangers to “take action without discrimination” and expressed the hoped that they would be able to control the new situation in “the next two to three days”.
However, he said that of the eight people reported killed on Tuesday, three were found to have met natural death while five were violence victims, adding that “the Karachi situation had improved a lot after 5pm yesterday” and 35 people had been arrested.
But Senator Adeel told the evening sitting that he had just received information a “short while ago” that an ANP worker, Zainul Abedin, had been killed in Karachi, while Senator Bilour said 40 buses and rickshaws driven by Pakhtuns had been burned down on Tuesday, and added: “We will not tolerate this any more, we have tolerated enough.”
During the debate on the parliamentary committee recommendations, PML-F Senator Muzaffar Hussain Shah, a former Sindh chief minister, said the committee’s report reflected aspirations of the people of Pakistan and followed the principles of “sovereign equality and mutual interests”.
He also praised both the civilian and military leadership for taking “courageous” decisions like suspending Nato supplies to Afghanistan via Pakistani land route and getting an airbase vacated by US personnel after a US helicopter strike in November on two Pakistani border posts killed 24 soldiers.
Praise for the report came also from a young PPP Senator from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Usman Saifullah, with criticism coming from two independents sitting on opposition back benches, MNAs Maulvi Asmatullah from Balochistan and Zafar Beg Bhittani from Fata.
Before the house was adjourned until 10am on Friday, nobody spoke in the debate on Wednesday from the PML-N and JUI-F, whose leaders spoke in quite detail on points of order on Tuesday, but refused to make their formal speeches unless their concerns were addressed by the government.
There was no immediate explanation from the chair why no sitting would be held on Thursday, but the move seemed to give time to the government to persuade the PML-N and the JUI-F to formally contribute to the debate and a consensus resolution that it seeks.
However, amid an uncertainty about the government’s plans, the parliamentary committee’s work received a new endorsement of sorts on Wednesday with the re-election of its chairman, Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP, following a few changes in its membership as a consequence of elections to 45 seats of the 104-seat Senate early this month.