Minister’s killing – PPP MPs stage rare show in National Assembly

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ISLAMABAD – Law Minister Babar Awan led a token walkout of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) members of the National Assembly on Thursday against the government – which is led by the PPP itself – to join the Pakistan Muslim League-N, PML-Q, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement to condemn the murder of slain Minorities Affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti and hold the government responsible for it, just as Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced a three-day official mourning for the late minister and told the House that the national flag would fly at half mast on Friday for a day.
Awami National Party (ANP)’s Pervez Khan questioned the rationale behind the PPP members joining the walkout. “How can the government stage a walkout against itself? It’s a drama … the PPP members should sit in the house to respond to the opposition’s concerns instead of joining them in the walkout against their own government,” he said.
The House initiated a debate on Bhatti’s assassination after suspending the rules and order of the day on a motion moved by Privatisation Minister Syed Naveed Qamar. Opening the debate, JUI-F’s member on minorities seat from Balochistan Asiya Nasir strongly condemned Bhatti’s assassination and called him a martyr.
She announced that she was staging a token walkout from the House along with all assembly members representing minorities. The PML-N, PML-Q, JUI-F and MQM members joined the walkout to express solidarity with the minorities. Akram Masih Gill and Riaz Hussain Pirzada of the PML-Q also condemned Bhatti’s assassination and demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident to expose the “actual forces” behind the act.
Gill demanded that the chief justice of the Supreme Court take suo moto notice of the incident. PML-N leader Javed Hashmi said the brutal killing of a fair man was an indication that society was fast moving towards collective suicide. Yasmeen Rehman of the PPP said that a parliamentary committee should be formed to devise a strategy to counter growing militancy and religious intolerance in the country.
Akhunzada Chatan of the PPP and Maulana Attaur Rehman of the JUI-F called the incident a conspiracy to destabilise Pakistan. Bushra Gohar of the ANP said that the constitution had contradictory clauses that said minorities enjoyed equal rights but barred them from becoming president or prime minister of the country. Dr Nelson Azeem, Dr Darshan and Dr Araish Kumar of the PML-N also condemned the incident.
Hamid Saeed Kazmi of the PPP said the assassination might be a conspiracy to pitch minorities against the Muslim majority. The House passed a resolution presented by Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khurshid Shah that all routine business of the house would remain suspended on Friday to continue the debate.
SUSPECTS NABBED: In a related development, Islamabad police arrested two suspects on Thursday allegedly involved in the assassination of minorities affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti. A police source, who asked not to be named, told Pakistan Today however that at least 18 suspects had been nabbed from various parts of the city and were being interrogated.
Inspector General of Islamabad Police Wajid Ali Durrani told reporters at the crime scene that a joint investigation team was interrogating the suspects to identify other culprits involved in the assassination. Durrani said more arrests were expected following the team’s investigation, which was being led by a senior superintendent of police (SSP) and included officials of spy agencies.
Sketches of the suspects had been completed with the assistance of Bhatti’s driver and were being given to the media, the IG said. The source said the minister’s mobile phone, now in police custody, could also provide further leads. He said some taxi drivers who frequently visited the area near the crime scene or parked nearby were also being interrogated.