Thrashing of lawmaker sparks rumpus in AJK assembly
6 March 2008
MUZAFFARABAD: In what was possibly the first incident of its kind in the history of the legislative assembly of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, an opposition lawmaker was roughed up by some members of the treasury benches here on Thursday, triggering strong protests from some opposition lawmakers who staged a sit-in and were in the assembly hall till the filing of this report. The commotion began at about noon when Mohammad Tahir Khokhar of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) sought the permission of Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir to read out his call-attention notice seeking a discussion on “frequent foreign tours of Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan and his family.” Waving an official notification, he said that Rs1.59 million had been withdrawn from the budget of Kashmir Liberation Cell in advance for a 20-day tour to Geneva by the prime minister’s son, Usman Ali Khan, and three ‘relatively unknown’ women to attend the ‘7th session of the United Council on Human Rights’. However, Law Minister Abdul Rashid Abbasi pointed out that under the rules of procedure, a maximum of two call-attention notices could be tabled in the house on a day. Taking serious exception to what he called suppression of the opposition’s voice to cover up malpractices of the government, the MQM lawmaker, whose mike had been switched off, walked towards the treasury benches and started distributing copies of the notification among the ministers sitting in the front row. While the law minister tore up the copy given to him, Minister for Forests Ghulam Murtaza Gillani proceeded towards Mr Khokhar and tried to snatch the remaining copies. And Minister for Religious Affairs Hamid Raza dashed towards Mr Khokhar and slapped him. Stunned by the incident, several lawmakers from both sides rushed to the area in front of the chair and some of them tried to bring the situation under control. Minister for Food Abdul Qayyum Niazi was also stated to have punched Mr Khokhar. Terming the incident highly deplorable, the speaker adjourned the session for half an hour, but the hall turned into a fish market with some treasury and opposition members loudly cursing each other. It is believed that Mr Raza was angry with Mr Khokhar because he is known for uncovering secret official documents and giving a tough time to the treasury. A number of meetings were held before the session was called again by the speaker at about 3pm, but opposition lawmakers in their speeches demanded suspension of Mr Raza, Mr Gillani and Mr Niazi. The speaker said he had been in the assembly since 1991 but had never witnessed such an incident. Appealing to both sides to maintain the decorum of the house, he said Mr Khokhar should not have gone to the other side of the divide when he (chair) was constantly asking him to return to his seat. However, he said, this could not justify the treatment he had received at the hands of the minister for religious affairs. He announced suspension of Mr Raza’s membership under rule 206 of the Rules of Procedure “for the current session”. However, as the opposition demanded suspension of the other two ministers as well, the law minister said the government would have no objection if they were “censured” by the chair. Upon this, the speaker gave a warning to Mr Gillani and Mr Niazi to be careful in the future and then read out the presidential order proroguing the session sine die. But six members of the opposition who were in the house at that time did not leave as a mark of protest. Senior opposition lawmakers, except People’s Muslim League (PML) president Barrister Sultan Mahmood, reached the assembly building and joined their colleagues in the hall. They also addressed a press conference. PPAJK secretary general and MLA Chaudhry Latif Akbar told Dawn that the opposition had given the 10am Friday deadline to suspend the membership of the two ministers. “Till then, we will stay in this hall and will announce our next course of action if the government fails to meet our demand,” he said. Mr Khokhar who was bleeding from his left ear, was taken to the nearby Abbas Institute of Medical Sciences. He was admitted to the hospital and sources told this correspondent that his eardrum had been damaged and he might take weeks to recover.