PRESS GALLERY: Time to define national interests
By Rana Qaisar
ISLAMABAD: Question Hour is the most important segment of parliamentary proceedings and all governments try to avoid it because ministers are at the mercy of the opposition then. And when a minister does not have command over the affairs of his ministry, he is a major embarrassment to the government. It was a tough day for Communications Minister Ahmed Ali as the opposition in the Senate on Wednesday grilled him for “knowing nothing” about his ministry and the de facto minister for communications, Lt Gen (r) Javed Ashraf Qazi, who held this portfolio in the Musharraf cabinet and many believe still continues to call shots, had to respond to most of the questions.
The senate was informed that the house would open a debate on the address by President General Pervez Musharraf to the joint session of parliament on Friday. It is a constitutional requirement for both the houses of parliament to discuss the president’s address. But before this debate begins, the president’s address to the convention of clerics in Islamabad on Wednesday was a hot topic for discussion in the parliament cafeteria.
The president launched his campaign against extremism and terrorism from Pakistan asking support from clerics and stressed correcting Pakistan’s image as a modern, progressive and dynamic Islamic state. He hinted at a possible physical threat to the country’s nuclear assets if action was not taken against proliferation and warning foreign elements allegedly operating against Afghanistan from Pakistan’s tribal areas, he said the anti-terrorism coalition forces might even decide to bomb the tribal areas if these foreigners were not disarmed and surrendered.
In his address to the joint session of parliament and later at a press conference earlier this month, the president had talked about the “dangerous” perceptions about Pakistan, also hinting at the situation the country could face if these perceptions were not corrected. His speech at the convention of clerics on Wednesday was similar in essence to that address to the joint session of parliament and his press conference later on. But what boggled many was the “edict” the president issued against those disobeying the “commands” of the government.
“Only the government can declare or order jihad. No individual or a political party can give a call for jihad. And if anyone does so, it is against the teachings and spirit of Islam,” the president said, reminding the clerics and the nation of the event when third caliph Umer Farooq had dismissed his commander Khalid-bin-Waleed who had accepted the orders of the caliph and did not resist. The president is right. But the example quoted by him echoed in the parliament cafeteria and many, the parliamentarians and the journalists, recalled Kargil and General Musharraf’s refusal to accept his dismissal by the then prime minister.
“Today, we are ruling. So do what we are asking you to do in the national interest and when you are in power, do whatever you think is in the national interest,” the president said, adding that Allah had given him the command of the country. Going by this, the question most of the parliamentarians and journalists put to each others was: If he (the president) asks the nation to follow whatever he wants in the supreme national interest, why had he not accepted what a former prime minister had done in his own way of interpreting the national interest and dismissed him as Army chief?”
The question is not of obeying or disobeying the commands of the ruler. It is a matter of defining the national interest. What today is in the national interest is against the national interest tomorrow. And, this is because we don’t have a national interest. Two decades ago, a US-sponsored war against the former Soviet Union was a jihad and today the same jihadis are criminals because now they are a threat to US interests. So we are dealing with them now as criminals. History cannot be undone with U-turns.
The confession of the day was made by Petroleum Minister Nouraiz Shakoor. He responded to an adjournment motion and admitted in the Senate that the increase in prices of petroleum products had a direct effect on the common man. He told the house that the government collect six different taxes on the sale of petroleum products and the total amount of taxes on one litre of petrol comes to Rs 19, which was more than the actual price of one litre of petrol. This is only one sector of the economy. The people have to pay taxes on everything they buy but they get nothing in return.