Wednesday March 29, 2023

Senate for revising counter-terror and Afghan policies

February 01, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Amid calls for making counter-terrorism the only agenda item of the upcoming joint sitting of parliament, lawmakers in the Senate Tuesday strongly advocated revisiting the counter-terrorism and Afghan policies to decisively deal with the menace.

After exhausting the Question-Hour, which lasted for about 30 minutes, the House resumed the ongoing discussion and focused on the resurgence of terrorism and the latest bloodbath at a Peshawar mosque.

Members pleaded that for the sake of the country, putting aside political differences, all should unite to rise to the challenge. “Is the blood of Pakistanis not enough to unite us if we can’t sit together on economy and other issues of the masses,” one senator remarked.

Former chairman Senate and PPP’s Mian Raza Rabbani, who was the first speaker, said that the policy of rehabilitation of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), initiated by then PTI government, was the basis of the ongoing poor security situation in the country. He said this apparently in the backdrop of statements by Foreign Minister and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, wherein he slammed PTI Chairman Imran Khan for reintroducing TTP militants back in the province after freeing the Army Public School (APS) attackers.

Rabbani regretted that the Taliban tagged as good Taliban had been allowed to cross over into Pakistan along with arms under the rehabilitation policy while neither parliament nor the people of the country were taken into confidence about the talks with the TTP, leading to a temporary ceasefire.

He rejected the claim that the parliament had authorised the military to hold talks with the TTP and contended the Parliamentary Committee on National Security had just been told by the military that talks were underway with the outlawed outfit.

Rabbani also questioned the logic of outsourcing dialogue to a jirga and asked as to what was the legal sanctity of that jirga, which held dialogue with TTP on the behalf of the government.

On summoning of a joint session of parliament on February 8, the veteran lawmaker demanded that the session be devoted to only discussion on counter terrorism policy. Rabbani again insisted on calling a meeting of the Senate’s Committee of the Whole for threadbare discussion on security situation and formulating counter terrorism strategy afresh, inviting all the stakeholders there.

About the ongoing political tug of war, Rabbani criticised the political parties for indulging in a war of words over political matters when the country was confronting the twin challenges of security and national economy.

He urged the political parties to have a national dialogue to reach a bare minimum understanding on the rule of law, parliamentary form of government and a strong Federation.

PTI Senator Saifullah Abro, who is from Sindh, blasted the ruling coalition for accusing Imran Khan of relaunching the TTP and said there should be no point-scoring on the issue of terrorism. However, he hastened to seek an inquiry into the prior knowledge of Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) about the worsening law and order situation. He pointed out that two days after the governor linked the general elections in the province with the security situation, the blast claiming lives of 88 people took place. He contended that it should be probed as to how the governor knew the situation would worsen.

Senator Tahir Bizenjo of the National Party said the lawmakers had come to know about the talks with the TTP and ceasefire through media reports. He also called for a special session of parliament for a thorough discussion on TTP and Afghanistan. He said a new Afghan policy should be framed in the light of deliberations, observing that the existing policy had failed to yield any positive result.

Taking part in the discussion, PMLN Senator Irfan Siddiqui said that then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had agreed to holding dialogue with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the banned outfit was asked to also form a committee for this purpose, after the government had named its own committee.

“During the news conference, TTP’s Ehsanullah Ehsan had proposed four names, including Maulana Samiul Haq, Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid, Prof M Ibrahim and the fourth name was of Imran Khan to represent them in talks with the government and this was the level of Taliban goodwill for Imran,” Senator Irfan said.

However, Imran had refused and named Rustam Shah Mohmand in his place to be a part of the TTP committee. He wondered was a single all parties conference held or any seriousness shown in dealing with terrorism during PTI government?

Irfan noted that during a recent interview, it was Imran who had shown goodwill towards the Taliban, and disclosed he had a plan when he was the PM to rehabilitate 5,000 Taliban but could not do so as the provinces did not cooperate with his government. “I wonder how many provinces refused to cooperate while the PTI had its governments in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and was the ruling coalition partner in Balochistan,” he remarked.

Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, while speaking on the subject, said it was time to formulate a clear-cut national counter-terrorism policy in the upcoming joint sitting of parliament, which must have this one-point agenda.

“If we fail to rise to the occasion and the present crisis lingers on, then someone else will come up to fill this vacuum. From now on, this traditional incapability will not work, as people want peace and end to their problems, which mere sloganeering can’t,” he maintained.

He continued, “We are on a wrong tack. Let us talk about Pakistan and the people and not about any specific party, person and no more fighting for power.” He added that it was better for this fragile government, already facing so much criticism, to announce elections and move forward.

Ejaz Chaudhry was of the view that there was no other option but to run the country in accordance with the Constitution and the law. He claimed, referring to some media reports that the short-circuiting was just an excuse to shut the National Assembly for three days in relation to his party members’ resignations.

Rana Maqbool called for a diplomatic offensive with reference to Afghanistan, as Taliban had held out an assurance to Pakistan that they would not allow use of their soil against any country.