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Fireworks in cabinet over Karachi killings

November 14, 2012

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf presiding over cabinet meeting at Prime Minister’s Secretariat. — Online Photo

ISLAMABAD: It was an intense two and a half hours discussion which the cabinet members held on target killings in Karachi, besides taking up the scheduled agenda on Wednesday.

It was a routine meeting of the federal cabinet but at the insistence of ministers, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf allowed them to consume as much time as they wanted to discuss violence in Karachi. Although killings in Karachi have marked the current sessions of the two houses of parliament, it wasn’t on the agenda of the cabinet meeting.

Sources privy to the meeting told Dawn that hosts of suggestions were made to wrest the increasing violence in Karachi. Some called for immediate military operation while others for giving sweeping powers to Rangers and police to curb criminal elements.

And there were ones who wanted en masse transfer of Karachi police because of their political connections and their replacement with police force of interior Sindh. The Sindh government was also criticised for its failure in Karachi.

As usual, Interior Minister Rehman Malik described the presence of extremists belonging to various groups, invisible hands and land mafia as main elements behind the killings in the country’s commercial hub, according to the sources.

Parliamentary secretary on interior division Rai Mujtaba Kharral of the PPP had informed the National Assembly on Monday that sectarian elements and land mafia having support of different political parties were mostly involved in the killings. He even held his own party, MQM and ANP responsible for the lawlessness in Karachi and urged them to sit together and fine a sustainable solution to the problem.

After patiently listening to every minister, Prime Minister Ashraf directed the interior minister to give an all-encompassing presentation in the next cabinet meeting on Karachi with concrete proposals to address the issue.

“We know that with a few months left for the present government, it is almost impossible to improve the situation in Karachi, but at least the prime minister wants to put everything in black and white before handing over power to the caretakers,” said a government official.

When a cabinet member confronted with an earlier report of a joint investigation team and the Supreme Court order which had categorically blamed the armed wings of political parties for the killings in Karachi, the interior minister said the issue was much more complicated than what it looked to people from outside.

Besides, he said, competing political parties, increasing presence of religious elements, a powerful business community and the latest entry of Taliban had simply made the city uncontrollable for a weak political government like “ours”.

Mr Malik referred to the passage of a controversial bill for local governments in Karachi and said how difficult it was for President Asif Ali Zardari to keep coalition partners intact. And with the general election round the corner, the government would avoid taking an extreme step, he said when asked if the PPP was contemplating any serious action in Karachi.

ELECTION LAWS: The cabinet approved the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2012. Under the bill, holders of public office will not be able to participate in election campaigns. If passed by parliament, politicians will be barred from commenting on the judiciary and the armed forces during election rallies.

Election expenditures have been increased from Rs1.5 million to Rs5m for MNAs and from Rs1m to Rs3m for MPAs.

The cabinet also approved proposals to amend the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947, and the Land Surveying and Mapping Bill, 2012.

In order to avoid any legal complication of important terrorism cases under trial, the cabinet approved, subject to vetting by the ministries of law and human rights, the Juvenile Justice System (Amendment) Bill, 2012. Necessary provisions have been incorporated for the protection of witnesses and juvenile accused in the proposed bill.

OBAMA: The cabinet congratulated Barack Obama on his re-election as President of the United States.

Prime Minister Ashraf said Pakistan and the US had common bilateral interests and shared regional objectives of peace, security and stability. He expressed the hope that as partners in a shared enterprise “we would be able to continue to pursue our collective goals to the benefit of both countries”.

LAOS SUMMIT: The prime minister briefed the cabinet on his visit to Laos to attend the Asia Europe Meeting Summit where important regional matters were discussed with a number of world leaders.

He said the event was very important because it focussed on “socio-economic issues and how to tackle them”. The world leaders were apprised of the challenges being faced by Pakistan and how these were being coped with.

The prime minister said he had apprised the world leaders of unfortunate misuse of freedom of expression, causing misunderstanding between followers of various religions. He said he had informed them that this trend was being seen as another kind of extremism that was neither desirable nor welcome. All religions teach tolerance and accommodation. There is a need to inculcate and promote respect for these values.