ISLAMABAD: Parliamentarians from across the political divide in both houses of parliament unanimously condemned the assassination attempt on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and warned that the incident could have serious implications on the upcoming elections.
Members of the National Assembly and Senate called for launching a probe into the incident to arrest the perpetrators of the attack, saying it could be an effort to delay the general elections.
NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq announced that since the security of the MNAs was his responsibility, he had decided to write letters to all the provincial chief secretaries and inspectors general of police (IGPs) to ensure that all members of parliament were extended protection in the run-up to the elections. Mr Sadiq also said that what had happened was unfortunate, and that such attacks carried out in the name of religion must stop.
Though opposition members expressed solidarity with the injured minister — and the ruling party over the incident — they criticised the government for not fully implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) against extremist elements in the country.
Speaking in the National Assembly, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique thanked all parties for their support to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in this “difficult time”. However, the minister — alluding to some of the remarks and slogans used by politicians to gain political mileage — said: “When we (politicians across the board) will start our speeches with a gaali (abusive language), it will cause things to escalate, and end with a goli (bullet).”
The minister said he did not want to blame anyone for the current predicament — the attempt on Ahsan Iqbal’s life — but warned that if political opponents did not stop insulting and maligning each other, no one in the political arena would feel safe.
Claiming that Ahsan Iqbal was a victim of “religious extremism”, Mr Rafique said that at a time when they were trying to handle the Taliban, “a new enemy has risen in the country”. He said the people who used to “distribute certificates of religion were behind the attack on the interior minister”. Mr Rafique urged all politicians to resolve that they would fight against “tyranny, oppression and dictatorship”, together.
Several parliamentarians said they were concerned over the recent decision of the Supreme Court to withdraw security details given to politicians.
Former interior minister Senator Rehman Malik requested Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar to reconsider the decision — especially given the security concerns following the attack on Ahsan Iqbal. He said that the attack on Ahsan Iqbal was an attack on the nation.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah also expressed concern over the CJP’s decision, saying that “yesterday’s incident should be an eye-opener”. He called for unity among all political forces to counter the threat of terrorism.
“On the one hand, the lives of politicians are in danger and on the other their security has been withdrawn,” MNA Essa Nori of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) said, adding that politicians were being made “easy targets” for extremist elements.
“What forces are behind the attack? What is this conspiracy? Are there some people who don’t want elections in the country? Recent events must be investigated thoroughly,” said Ijaz Jakhrani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Abdul Mannan of the PML-N said that he was not surprised — in fact, he was expecting such an incident (like the attack on Ahsan Iqbal) — considering the volatile and heated political climate in the country. He demanded the formation of a parliamentary committee to investigate the matter.
Dr Shireen Mazari of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf called for decisive measures against extremist elements and banned organisations.
In the Senate, Leader of the Opposition Sherry Rehman warned that the attack on Ahsan Iqbal was not an isolated incident, but a serious threat — a message by extremist elements to all politicians.
“The attack on the country’s interior minister so close to the elections is not merely a coincidence,” former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani said, adding that the PPP had faced similar threats in the 2013 elections.
Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq briefed the members on the recovery of the interior minister and said that a bullet was still lodged in his stomach. He said the minister had to be treated for massive internal bleeding.
Dr Jahanzeb Jamaldini of the BNP-M stressed the need for unity among politicians against undemocratic forces.
Senator Azam Musakhel of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party termed the attack “a slap in the face of the NAP” and warned that the situation was being made difficult for politicians ahead of the elections.
Taking part in the budget debate in the NA, parliamentary leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Dr Farooq Sattar called for creation of new provinces in the country on administrative grounds. He said that it was regrettable that the budget did not mention Karachi, the country’s main economic hub.