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Parliament outraged by killings

December 20, 2012

ISLAMABAD: Both houses of parliament voiced outrage on Wednesday at “brutal killings” of female polio vaccinators in Karachi and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province over two days with demands for adequate protection of the workers.

The National Assembly unanimously passed a joint resolution moved by three parties while only speeches were made in the Senate afterwards condemning the continued slaughter of the vaccinators apparently by religious fanatics opposing the anti-polio campaign.

The resolution in the National Assembly, sponsored by the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), its ally Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), was passed in early afternoon towards the fag-end of the house sitting, which also saw Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh coming under fire from both political friends and foes for being absent from the house during the question hour.

Strongly condemning the incidents of “brutal killings” of four female vaccinators in Karachi and one in Peshawar on Tuesday and another female worker and her driver in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa town of Charsadda on Wednesday, the resolution demanded that “all culprits be arrested and maximum punishment be awarded” to them.

It called upon the federal and provincial governments to provide “full protection and security to all personnel involved in the anti-polio campaign so that this noble and essential mission is completed expeditiously and successfully and the future of our children is safeguarded from the menace of polio”.

IN THE DOCK IN ABSENTIA: In speeches on the issue and law and order in general, some members of the National Assembly, including PPP’s Noor Alam Khan from Peshawar, criticised the interior minister for alleged failures over law and order, while some others blasted both him and the finance minister during the question hour after it was found that even the parliamentary secretaries of their ministries were not present to answer questions.

None of their cabinet colleagues stood up to defend the two ministers from the attack, which was joined by PPP chief whip and Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Ahmed Shah and Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, though Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek did refer to the concept of “collective responsibility” of the cabinet to the house as enshrined in the Constitution.

Mr Shah acknowledged that some ministers were “not fulfilling their responsibility”, which he said they should realise while the deputy speaker, who was then chairing the proceedings, said that “due to some ministers the whole parliament gets a bad name”, and asked: “What message are we giving to the nation?”

While Chaudhry Birjees Tahir of the PML-N unsuccessfully sought a ruling from the chair to block the entry of the two ministers in the house until they had repented, Bushra Gohar of the government-allied Awami National Party demanded “such ministers be removed”.

SENATE IN ONE VOICE: In the upper house in the evening, senators from both sides of the aisle condemned attacks on anti-polio workers that they termed an act of playing with the lives of the coming generations.

They warned that the hurdles in the way of the campaign against polio, if not removed through appropriate means, would have dangerous consequences for Pakistan. They were of the view that in such a case, Pakistan would not only become an unsafe destination but the people from the country travelling abroad might also face hardships.

Some members saw an intelligence failure in the attacks, pointing out that the threat was already there as a force was operating against the anti-polio campaign, and said proper security arrangements should have been in place before launching the drive.

“What the intelligence agencies were doing is a question mark,” Kamil Ali Agha of PML-(Q said. He was of the view that the Inter-Services Intelligence should focus on such matters, particularly after the abolition of its political cell. He wondered how a 13-year-old girl was involved in the anti-polio campaign.

Saeed Ghani of PPP asked religious leaders to play their role in convincing those killing people in the name of religion that administration of anti-polio drops was not something un-Islamic.

Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri of JUI-F brushed aside the impression that Islamic parties were opposed to the anti-polio drive and said forces seeking to weaken Pakistan were behind the conspiracy.

ANP’s Shahi Syed endorsed the view and said anti-state forces behind these incidents wanted to defame Pakistan. Mushahid Hussain Sayed of the PML-Q, while condemning the incidents, said there was no counter-terrorism strategy and terrorists were free to strike when and where they liked.

He was of the opinion that polio-free Pakistan should be part of the election manifestos of all political parties.

Various other members from different political parties also expressed their views while speaking on points of order in the house, which is likely to adopt a unanimous resolution against the killings on Thursday, when it is due to meet at 10am.

An adjournment motion to discuss the issue in the house at length has already been submitted with the Senate secretariat by M. Hamza of the PML-N.

BHAGAT SINGH: PPP stalwart Mian Raza Rabbani, while speaking on a point of order, proposed to the Punjab government to rename Shadman Chowk in Lahore as Bhagat Singh Chowk because it was the site of the jail where Bhagat Singh, an independence struggle hero, was hanged in 1931.

Earlier in the National Assembly, the law minister introduced a bill --- the Election Law (Amendment) Bill --- proposing amendments in the Representation of the People Act, 1976, and the Senate (Election) Act, 1975 to bring some of their provisions in conformity with articles 63 and 219 of the constitution as amended by the Eighteenth Amendment.