ISLAMABAD: The information minister on Tuesday referred to a series of terrorist attacks on the lives of two former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, in the 90s (much before the 9/11 happened) to establish that this was very much Pakistan’s own war.
The in-camera session was held here on Tuesday at the Parliament House in which Information Minister Sherry Rehman briefed the MPs about the three-pronged policy of the government on Fata which includes dialogue with those who lay down weapons, economic and social development of the tribal areas and military operation against militants which would be exercised as the last resort and would continue till the objectives are achieved.
Benazir Bhutto’s revelation in her last book “Reconciliation - Islam, democracy and the West” was also referred to in the briefing to show how a plot was hatched by the militants to murder her during a visit to Clifton, Karachi, to prove that the terrorists had started targeting the Pakistani leaders much before 9/11.
Top level sources said the bomb attack on former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on his way to his residence in Raiwind during his second tenure was used by the Information Minister Sherry Rehman to convince the MPs of the PML-N that the terrorists had started to target the political figures much before the current war on terror began.
The purpose of this reference was to make PML-N MPs realise that they also needed to understand that at one stage even their own leader was the target of attack by these militants. The sources said the PPP government also wanted to tell PML-N MPs that it was wrong to assume at this stage that only the attacks on the twin towers brought Pakistan in the forefront of the war against terror.
One source claimed that dramatic change in the tone of the PML-N on Tuesday, after attending the briefing, too had something to do with the very fact that Sherry Rehman reminded its MPs that they should not forget how their own leader had narrowly escaped a bomb attack. One militant group had accepted the responsibility of attacking Nawaz Sharif.
The sources said Sherry gave a very impressive briefing to the parliamentarians, presenting a long list of terrorist attacks, which established that Pakistan had become victim of terrorism even in 1993 when a plot to kill Benazir Bhutto in Karachi was hatched by some terrorist organisations.
She said the terrorists were out to destroy Pakistan much before the Americans attacked Afghanistan. In this regard, she mentioned the names of Ramzi Yousuf, Amel Kansi and others who were operating in Pakistan but were later arrested and handed over to the Americans.
Sherry also told the parliamentarians about over a dozen French engineers who were killed in Karachi in a bomb attack. Sherry said the seeds of terrorism in Pakistan were sown during the tenure of Ziaul Haq who promoted these groups in the name of Islam. She said the time had come to save the country, which was facing threats at the hands of some terrorist groups who had started working against this country much before the events of 9/11.
She said this war has to be won at all costs. She recalled how ZAB built the foundation of democracy and secular traditions in the country, which were now under threat at the hands of terrorists.
The sources said the parliamentarians must give a serious thought to the fast developing consensus that terrorism has to be uprooted to save Pakistan from falling into the hands of militants who are deceiving the people by using the name of Islam to project their agenda.
The MPs belonging to the opposition as well as partners of the ruling coalition termed the policy statement of the government given in the in-camera session of the Parliament as insufficient, saying, it contained nothing new.
The in-camera session of the Parliament will continue for five more days. On Wednesday there will be question-answer session on the war on terror while the debate will start from Thursday and will continue for fours days. A joint resolution containing policy guidelines for the government is expected at the end of the session.
In Tuesday’s briefing Sherry Rehman briefed the MPs about the magnitude of terrorists’ threat, the nature of threat and its origins, and the gravity of the challenges that confront the nation.
No question-answer session was allowed on Tuesday after the detailed briefing by the information minister, which lasted for more than 90 minutes. The minister told the Parliament that it was Pakistan’s own war now and the stakes were high because of Pakistan geo-strategic location. She urged parliament members to formulate a policy with sense of utmost responsibility and for the survival of Pakistan.
Though the government MPs remained tight-lipped over the policy briefing, the PML-N legislators said it was repetition of the statements of the previous government and continuation of Musharraf’s policies. They said that the government has nothing new to tell.
The sources told The News that PML-N members Iqbal Zafar Jhagra and Ayaz Amir wanted to speak on points of order but they were not allowed and instead the national anthem was played and the session was adjourned.
To this the PML-N members lodged a strong protest and said the briefing is still continuing and that they should be allowed to speak. But the government sources put aside the assertions of the PML-N legislators about the playing of national anthem, saying, it was part of the clips that were shown on the screen along side the speech of the information minister.
The sources said the Parliament would hold in-camera question-answer session today (Wednesday) that would be followed by a debate for four days and the government would devise its policy in the light of the suggestions that would be given by the Parliament after four days of debate.
The government wants to adopt a consensus resolution on the war against terror and is in touch with all the parties to formulate a joint resolution that would be tabled at the conclusion of the debate.
However, according to sources, a consensus resolution looks unlikely given the fact that even the coalition partners such as the JUI-F hold totally different point of view on the war on terror.
President Asif Ali Zardari, it is said, is making efforts to persuade the PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif that if he did not agree with the government policy then his policy should not oppose the government policy. The government Tuesday went all out to defend its policy against terrorism in the tribal areas and the NWFP and pledged to continue it forcefully.
“Federal Information Minister Sherry Rehman was thrilled over the fact that everybody was convinced with her presentation highlighting the government’s policy during the in-camera session of the Parliament,” a participant told The News. He said that some PML-N members protested saying one of the maps used in the briefing showed Occupied Kashmir as part of India. The PML-N raised a lot of hue and cry over it. However, a federal cabinet member told The News that three maps were shown during her presentation and that two maps very clearly showed Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) as disputed territory but one map shown in the briefing was blurred which misled the PML-N members.
The participant said that the minister elaborated in detail before the Parliament that an Iraq-like situation is feared if militancy is not crushed with full force. She gave examples of Iraq and Afghanistan repeatedly and told the Parliament: “It is what exists on ground and we will have to face it and will have to fight against extremism through negotiations, through development and finally by using force if all peaceful efforts fail,” a participant quoted Sherry as saying.
The PML-N members raised the objection on showing IHK as part of India in a map during Sherry’s presentation. A top PML-N leader said it should be investigated who actually prepared this presentation. According to reports Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Advisor on Interior Rehman Malik and the Finance Division helped Sherry Rehman in preparing the presentation.
DG ISPR Maj Gen Athar Abbas when approached by The News said that the army had concluded its briefing in the first round and there was no participation of the army in today’s briefing. He said that the army didn’t use international maps during its presentation.
Meanwhile, on the conclusion Tuesday’s session Speaker National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza chaired a meeting of the leaders/representatives of the parliamentary parties in the Senate and the National Assembly. The meeting discussed matters relating to the ongoing joint sitting of the Parliament.
The meeting decided to continue the in-camera joint sitting of the Parliament for five days. It was decided that there would be question-answer session on Wednesday, followed by discussion the next day that will continue for four days. It was also decided that ample time would be given to parliamentary leaders and members to express their views.
The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Senators Mian Raza Rabbani, Farooq H Naik, Haji Adeel, Kamil Ali Agha, Prof Khursheed Ahmad, Israrullah Khan, Dr Abdul Maalik, Ms Anisa Zeb Tahirkheli, Ilyas Ahmad Bilour, Rahim Mandokhel, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, Abdul Razik, Zafar Iqbal Jhagra, MNAs Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Syed Khursheed Shah, Abdul Mateen Khan, Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, Sheikh Aftab Ahmad, Jadam Mangrio, Munir Khan Orakzai, Abdul Mateen Khan, Dr Abdul Kadir Khanzada.