AJK govt and opposition defuse tension
7 March 2008
MUZAFFARABAD: The atmosphere in the Legislative Assembly of Azad Jammu and Kashmir changed for the better on Friday after the opposition and treasury benches reached an agreement under which the assembly’s session was convened in the afternoon and the membership of a minister was suspended again for roughing up a lawmaker. The speaker had suspended the membership of Religious Affairs Minister Hafiz Hamid Raza “for the current session” for assaulting Muttahida Qaumi Movement MLA Tahir Khokhar a little before its adjournment on Thursday. The opposition criticised the decision, staged a protest sit-in and refused to leave the assembly hall. At about 3am, a committee comprising four ministers and a senior parliamentarian reached an agreement with the opposition and the protesters left the hall. At the meeting, opposition lawmakers pointed out that in effect Mr Raza had not been punished because he was not in the house when his suspension was announced and then the session was adjourned. The government offered that if the opposition requisitioned a session the same punishment could once again be slapped on the minister. Upon the opposition’s refusal to submit a requisition, the government summoned a session. Three other MLAs of the ruling party facing allegations of roughing up Mr Khokhar stated on oath that they had just rushed to separate their scuffling colleagues. A team of MQM leaders reached Muzaffarabad from Islamabad on Thursday night but they were asked by People’s Party AJK president Chaudhry Abdul Majeed to let the opposition handle the issue on its own. In the assembly session, Leader of the House Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan and Leader of the Opposition Sardar Qamar Zaman delivered conciliatory speeches after Law Minister Abdul Rashid Abassi had announced the decisions taken by the two sides. Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir announced the suspension of the membership of Mr Raza and the latter left the hall. Ministers Murtaza Gillani, Qayyum Niazi and Raja Mansab Dad assured the house that they were not involved in the manhandling of Mr Khokhar. Mr Niazi apologised to the opposition members, “if he had caused them any harm”. The leader of the opposition asked the prime minister to take note of the ‘mistakes’ of his colleagues. Sardar Attique expressed regrets over the incident and agreed that it was primarily the government’s responsibility to maintain the decorum of the house. “I am deeply anguished by the physical assault on Mr Khokhar, but I am happy that the minister also left the hall without even stating his viewpoint. I also express gratitude to the three ministers for clarifying their position,” he said. He said he was grateful to the PPAJK president for his “sober, balanced and justified stand that we would settle the issue ourselves”. After the prime minister’s speech, the speaker prorogued the house sine die. Talking to reporters, Sardar Qamar denied there was any split in the ranks of the opposition. “The problem had occurred in the house and it had to be settled within the house,” he said. As far as registration of a case against Mr Raza was concerned, it was the right of the MQM and the entire opposition backed it, he said. “If police refuse to register an FIR we will seek justice from courts,” he said. MQM legislator Salim Butt submitted an application to the New Civil Secretariat police on behalf of Mr Khokhar, seeking registration of a case of attempted murder against Mr Raza. The SHO, however, said the police would take legal action. Meanwhile, Mr Khokhar was taken to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad. Before his departure, he went to the assembly building in an ambulance to thank the media for its support. Talking to journalists, Mr Mahmood demanded fresh elections in AJK.