Press Gallery: Gun-toting commandos in parliament
By Rana Qaisar
ISLAMABAD: President General Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday visited the parliament under unprecedented security. After Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Mr Musharraf was the first president to come to his parliament chambers where he met treasury members. The president has often been meeting parliamentarians at the Presidency and his camp office at Army House. But it is for the first time that he chose to meet them in his parliament chambers. His visit and meetings with parliamentarians were not unusual events but what alarmed everyone was the presence of gun-toting commandos in the precincts of parliament. “Has the army now practically taken over parliament,” an opposition member commented on seeing the security alert.
Opposition members in the National Assembly protested at the presence of commandos in parliament and staged a walk-out when the house was debating the federal budget. As Liaqat Baloch and Mehmood Khan Achakzai expressed their concern over the situation, Umer Ayub Khan, the grandson of the first military dictator Ayub Khan, quickly objected to their point of order and defended the security measures taken for the president, who has faced two attempts on his life. The opposition’s objection was not the security for the president but the problem these security measures had caused them and other people, including journalists.
As the opposition walked out, Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain, who was unusually sitting with a group of journalists in parliament’s cafeteria, rushed to the house and ruled that everyone had the right to arrange for his or her security and the president, like every other citizen, had the right to protect himself. The message was clear that it was all because of the president, but the message did not go down well and following the speaker’s ruling, our chief-spin-doctor created a stir when he told the National Assembly that the extraordinary security was not because of the president, but because of a terrorism threat against the parliament building. What a spin!
If what our chief-spin-doctor says is true, the president should stay away from threatened places because he has already been targeted twice. Intelligence reports might have indicated the possibility of a terrorist attack on the parliament building but one does not agree to the twist Mr Spin tried to give the fast-developing political situation that prompted the president to come to parliament and interact with the treasury members directly without the prime minister and their party leaders around probably “to get the other view of the situation”. Why not get a clear picture and hear parliamentarians’ views before taking any decision on an “in-house” change.
One of the “most-informed” federal ministers believes that the prime minister has, for the time being, successfully averted an “in-house” change but he did not rule out such a possibility when he remarked that it was a temporary, meaning that a change would indeed take place. The treasury members who met the president in his parliament chambers were reportedly blunt in conveying their concern to the president about their leadership which, they told the reporters after the meeting, had disappointed them. “Isn’t it better to have direct contact with the authority,” PML member from Lahore Kashmala Tariq (who had made it for the first time to the National Assembly on a reserved seat) said. If this is what everyone now thinks about PML president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali who have already locked horns over various issues, the message is loud and clear.
The president will sit in his parliament chambers for a few days to interact with the treasury members. Many believe that this interaction is part of his strategy to make an assessment of the political situation and to make up his mind to select Mr Jamali’s successor. His decision to sit in his parliament chambers too indicates that he has now decided to monitor the situation and the mood of the opposition in both houses personally, instead of getting second-hand information from a group of “sycophants” who serve their own political interests.