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Rage and resolve in parliament over Malala shooting

October 11, 2012

ISLAMABAD, Oct 10: It was both rage and resolve in both houses of parliament on Wednesday over the shooting of an award-winning Swat valley girl activist with the National Assembly calling for continuing the “rooting out of terrorists”.

But amid this outpouring across party lines, which overshadowed an apparent sense of relief over the Supreme Court’s endorsement of the text of a letter it wants the government to send to Switzerland over disputed money-laundering charges against President Asif Ali Zardari, there were also some voices of alleged hypocrisy that sought to shift the blame for Tuesday’s attack on the 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai claimed by Taliban militants.

The National Assembly suspended the day’s question hour for a debate before the unanimous adoption of a resolution that strongly condemned the shooting at a school van at the Swat town of Mingora that critically hit Malala in the head and also wounded two other girls.

And the house, in its brief resolution in Urdu, said it “resolves that until the establishment of peace in the great motherland, the rooting out of terrorists will continue”.

Saluting “the great services and sacrifices” of Malala – who has been advocating for women’s education and had spoken against the Taliban who oppose it – the house demanded that the government bear all expenses of the medical treatment of the three girls and arrest and “effectively punish the culprits”.

Another resolution adopted unanimously by the Senate after a debate later in the evening said people involved in the “cowardly act” did not deserve to be called human beings and that they were “savages and beasts” out to defame Pakistan. Most of about 15 lawmakers who spoke in the National Assembly, after Shazia Marri of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party opened the debate predicting a defeat of the “forces of darkness”, called for showing no leniency to that mindset, with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar calling for seriously taking this “wake-up call” and Khwaja Saad Rafiq, the main speaker from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), counselling for charting a solid and “unanimous strategy” against extremism.

But two other opposition members, Maulana Ataur Rehman, a younger brother of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and independent Zafar Beg Bhittani from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), put most of the blame on the presence of American forces in Afghanistan and drone attacks in Fata, with the Maulana talking of “the need to advise the young people” who he said had chosen a “different path” for reasons including foreign-dictated decisions and non-implementation of parliament’s resolutions.

PML-N’s Ayaz Amir denounced such confusing talk and challenged the ulema and others engaging in it to go to North Waziristan to advise the perpetrators of violence.

Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek, before moving the joint resolution in the National Assembly, called the attack in Swat as “not only a crime against an innocent girl but a crime against humanity” and said it was high time to ponder over “where are we going”.

Bushra Rahman of the government-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Q, a poet, came close to crying as she denounced “beasts, animals and satans” of whom, she said, Pakistan must be cleansed.

Pervez Khan Advocate of the Awami National Party wondered if any Pashtun could claim “mardangi” (manliness) by engaging in such a “crime against humanity”.

In a speech in the Senate after returning from a visit to Peshawar, where Malala is admitted in the Combined Military Hospital, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the girl’s condition had improved though the government, on orders from the president, had arranged air ambulance to take her to the United Arab Emirates or Germany if needed for the best possible treatment there.

But he said the doctors had not yet permitted moving her from there and quoted them as saying that she had responded like sticking out her tongue and moving her hands when asked to do so.

Validation ordinance extended

In rest of the proceedings before adjourning until 5pm on Thursday, the National Assembly passed a resolution to extend, from Oct 23, for a further 120 days a Validation Ordinance promulgated on June 24 to validate all acts of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from the time of his conviction by the Supreme Court for contempt of court on April 26 to his removal from office on June 19 for refusing to write a letter to Swiss authorities as directed by the court.

The law minister, who came to the house soon after getting the court endorsement of his draft of a compromise letter to be sent to Switzerland, refrained from talking about his apparent legal success though PML-N’s Saad Rafiq had, in his speech earlier, acknowledged the government had saved its second prime minister after losing one but asked why the democratic system had been put at risk for so long by refusing to write a letter.

However, several house members and some ministers came to the law minister’s desk, apparently seeking implications of the development in the Supreme Court.

Sheesha smoking in Islamabad

A joint call-attention notice of four lawmakers of the PML-Q and PML-N complaining of an “increasing use” of the so-called “sheesha” smoking generated a heated discussion with some fingers pointed even at two top hotels of the capital.

Minister of State for Interior Imtiaz Safdar Warraich told the house that action had been initiated after 37 restaurants of the capital were found to be violating a ban on such smoking in public places, including sealing two of them. But authors of the notice seemed to be unimpressed by his denial that the two top hotels were among the violators.

Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, while chairing the proceedings, too insisted the two hotels were violating the law and asked Mr Warraich to accompany him and he would show him that it was so.

The discussion ended after the minister of state agreed to a meeting of a committee of members from both sides of the house to examine the existing legislation against “sheesha” smoking and what more could be done to check the practice.