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October 13, 2008
Shawwal 13, 1429
Opposition MPs flex muscle for frank debate: Joint session resumes today
By Raja Asghar
ISLAMABAD, Oct 12: After two days of listening to the military that many said informed them little, it will be the turn of parliament members to speak out on the so-called “war on terrorism” in a secret debate in search of a consensus beginning on Monday in a joint sitting of the two houses.
But very little will be known to the general public about the likely heated proceedings, which will be reported only by a press release of the National Assembly secretariat.
Commencing at 5pm as a follow-up of the military’s in-camera briefing to the joint sitting of the National Assembly and the Senate on Wednesday and Thursday after a three-day recess, the debate could last three to four days, parliamentary sources of the government said on Sunday.
It will be “like a full-fledged debate” aimed to develop “some consensus” about the future policy, leader of the house in the Senate Raza Rabbani told Dawn.
He said no time-limit had been set for the debate, but only the third secret joint sitting of the two houses in Pakistan’s parliamentary history could continue for three to four more days.
After the military’s briefing for two days, most opposition spokesmen said they hardly got any new information about what has turned into a full-scale insurgency in the mountains and valleys in the north of the country by the followers of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban, who have also struck major cities and towns across the country quite often with deadly suicide bombings.
After complaining of dissatisfaction with the briefing, some opposition parties as well as some allies are likely to come quite hard on the six-month-old PPP-led coalition government they accuse of only continuing former military president Pervez Musharraf’s policy that they say has failed.
The government says it has already moved from Musharraf’s only use-of-force to a three-pronged approach of dialogue with those who give up arms, economic development of the troubled Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), and a selective use of force against those who insist on challenging writ of the state.
Questions could be raised about the responsibility for the fast spread of militant activity to almost all the seven Fata administrative agencies bordering Afghanistan and some adjoining settled districts like Swat despite a heavy military deployment in the region.
It appeared to be in anticipation of a discussion in parliament on the conduct of the security agencies that the military leadership voiced its anger on Saturday about criticism directed against the country’s top spy agency, the Inter-Services Intellgence (ISI).
But Mr Rabbani said the military statement that said a Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee meeting on Saturday “took a serious note of insinuations about Pakistan’s nuclear programme and the ISI” responded only to some external criticism some time ago that was earlier rejected by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and the foreign ministry.
Parliamentary groups seemed to be flexing their muscles for the debate, in which the Pakistan Muslim League-N is likely to lead the opposition assault despite its vow to help the coalition government complete its five-year term despite parting ways with it recently after the PPP leadership failed to honour its commitment to reinstate all superior court judges sacked by General Musharaf under a controversial Nov 3, 2007 emergency proclamation.
PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, while marking the ninth anniversary of his deposition as prime minister by General Musharraf, said in Lahore on Sunday his party would seek peace through dialogue and that he wanted the former army chief to be summoned to appear before parliament to answer questions.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, whose Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam faction has been a supporter of the Taliban and is now a partner in the coalition government, wants the issue to be seen in the context of perceived American policies to dominate this region.
“If allowed by the Speaker, perhaps my speech will be the real briefing,” he told a news conference.
But the government is expected to get full support from coalition ally Awami National Party, whose leader Asfandyar Wali Khan survived a recent suicide bombing at his Wali Bagh home in the North West Frontier Province where his party heads the ruling coalition.
Similar support is also likely from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is a PPP ally in Sindh province and is waiting in the wings to join the federal cabinet as well and a section of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Q.
“We will try and develop a minimum consensus to effectively move forward to combat (terrorism),” Mr Rabbani said.
“It is not (continuation of) the Musharraf policy,” he said and added that the joint sitting debate was in line with commitments of the Charter of Democracy signed by assassinated PPP leader Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in 2006 to make parliament relevant in running the affairs of the country and develop consensus on all major issue confronting the nation.
According to him, it was a demonstration of the supremacy of parliament that army was brought in to give a briefing to a joint session for the first time.
He said an in-camera debate was preferred only to “avoid petty point-scoring at a critical time in the country’s history” and rather try to build a consensus.