ISLAMABAD: An apparent inter-party warmth overcame some opposition pinpricks as the National Assembly began a second session this winter on Monday with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani keeping up a conciliatory mode that helped him wriggle out of a political crisis earlier this month.
Responding to some points raised by two opposition figures at the start of the session after a 17-day recess, the prime minister promised an explanation to the house by his interior minister about a confusing law and order situation in Karachi and put on hold a costly project to build more parliamentary lodges in Islamabad until a fresh decision by a committee of the house.
Both the issues were raised by opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who also sought explanations about the nature and achievements of President Asif Ali Zardari’s recent visit to the United States and about media reports of the name of the minister of state for ports and shipping, Nabil Ahmed Gabol, being put on the exit control list (ECL) after he had sent his resignation from office.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the house that the president had undertaken the US visit in his “private capacity” to attend a memorial service for Richard Halbrooke, the US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, though Mr Zardari used the opportunity to promote national causes through his interactions with US President Barack Obama and other officials.
The prime minister said he had checked with the interior secretary last week after media reports about Mr Gabol’s name being put on the ECL — to bar his travel abroad — and was told that no such step had been taken.
There was a brief furore in the house when some members of the opposition PML-N refused to hear the foreign minister’s explanation about the president’s visit before knowing what action had been taken against an unidentified bureaucrat whom Mr Gabol had earlier accused of playing a “mischief” in the affair and a PPP member rudely shouted at them.
However, the situation calmed down after Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi allowed a PML-N member to make a speech before giving the floor to the foreign minister, whose justification for the president’s trip remained unquestioned as Mr Gilani’s PPP-led coalition exuded confidence compared to uncertainty it faced when the house ended its last session on Jan 7 after two of its allies had parted ways to reduce it to a minority government in the 342-seat house.
The 25-seat MQM has since come back to the fold to give the coalition majority, though without rejoining the cabinet, with assurances from the two main opposition parties not to try to unsettle the system, which were repeated in the house on Monday by PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar and PML-Q’s parliamentary leader Faisal Saleh Hayat even while criticising the government.
The prime minister was thankful for what the opposition offered and assured them that the government would take their views seriously.
The eight-seat JUI-F too did not seem keen to go to the opposition benches after quitting the alliance and the cabinet last month.
Its chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman occupied his front seat on the opposition benches on Monday and, unlike the previous session, none of the party members asked the chair to act on their pending application for the allocation of seats on the opposition benches.