Govt’s stony silence as allies protest in NA
By Raja Asghar
ISLAMABAD: The government kept a stony silence in the National Assembly on Wednesday on more protests and some harsh criticism from its own ranks in an apparent backlash against an about-turn over the local government system in Sindh.
The government-allied Awami National Party staged a second walkout in as many days to protest against a weekend decree reversing a Sindh provincial assembly law that had replaced a controversial Mushrraf-era local government system, and then a veteran lawmaker of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Syed Zafar Ali Shah, vented his anger on his own party for what he called a “sell-out” in his home province.
But neither Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, fresh from a visit to Saudi Arabia, and Interior Minister Rahman Malik, who made his first appearance in the house after being in the thick of the deal aimed to bring peace to Karachi, responded to these or other attacks in the house on the seventh day of an opposition-sought debate on the recent wave of violence in Karachi and some deadly sectarian attacks in Quetta.
An ANP member from Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province, Jamila Gilani, said her party, which is a PPP ally also in the Sindh government and had staged a similar token walkout on Tuesday, would continue its protest until a withdrawal of the Saturday night’s provincial ordinance issued without consulting it to roll back the revival of what is known as the “commissioner system”, under which government-appointed deputy commissioners used to head district administrations rather than elected but politically affiliated “nazims”.
“This is a sell-out which we will not accept,” PPP’s Zafar Ali Shah said in the harshest criticism in the house of the move seen aimed at appeasing the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) – opposed to an earlier decree and a subsequent bill passed by the provincial assembly to restore the “commissioner system” – but which sparked resentment with the PPP and widespread protests from the so-called nationalist groups in the province. About the interior minister and former law minister Senator Babar Awan, who have been negotiating with the MQM over the deal apparently on behalf of President Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP member from Naushero Feroze district said: “We want both of them not to come to Sindh for such missions.”
He sought to draw the prime minister’s attention to what he called “a lot of ills” due to a perceived ineffectiveness of Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah who, he said, was actually not himself governing the province as “his authority does not prevail”.
But Mr Gilani, who had arrived in the house after chairing a cabinet meeting that discussed the issue, showed no sign of being attentive to one of his party’s senior-most lawmakers as he was attending to several members from both the treasury and opposition benches who had crowded his desk to say a word or to get some papers signed.
On its part, the MQM too has given no public hint so far to return the concessions it won by rejoining the PPP-led coalition it had left a second time in June. It rather joined a protest walkout led by the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party in the National Assembly on Tuesday mainly over higher gas prices and power cuts, apparently clouding the future of the deal against which Sindhi nationalists have called for a second strike within a week on Saturday.
The first strike on Sunday was against Saturday’s original decree that had restored the Nazim system in MQM-dominated Karachi and Hyderabad cities and was seen by critics as something that could lead to an administrative division of Sindh in view of the prevailing demands for the creation of new provinces in the country. But the decrees were amended the next day to extend the restoration to entire province.
Mr Shah said that nothing short of restoring the pre-Musharraf system, as had been done in all three other provinces, would be acceptable to Sindh.
Though Mr Shah received most of the cheers from PML-N benches and a subdued desk-thumping from some PPP members, the day’s six other speakers in the debate kept out of the fray on local government and largely called for an across-the-board action against those responsible for violence in Karachi and Quetta before the house was adjourned until 1pm on Thursday.