Walkouts in NWFP Assembly on arrest of MPA, press freedom

By Behroz Khan

PESHAWAR: The opposition members and journalists on Tuesday staged separate token walkouts on the opening day of the NWFP Assembly session to protest against the arrest of MPA Muhammad Shoaib Khan and condemn the government curbs on press freedom, respectively.

The issue of ANP member Shoaib Khan echoed in the house, chaired by Speaker Hidayatullah Khan Chamkani, soon after recitation from the Holy Quran when Bashir Ahmad Bilour through a point of order drew the attention of the chair towards the issue.

Leader of Opposition Begum Nasim Wali Khan led the walkout after a number of MPAs belonging to the opposition benches spoke on the issue and criticised the government for the continued detention of the MPA in a "so-called" treason case. The journalists walked out of the press gallery soon after the opposition members were brought back to the house, to show solidarity with the Jang Group of Newspapers and protest against the government moves to impose curbs on the press.

PML-N Provincial President Pir Sabir Shah and two provincial ministers, Ali Afzal Jadoon and Yousaf Tarand, went to the opposition chamber for talks and assured the protesting MPAs that government would take all possible steps to resolve the issue.

A negotiating team comprising provincial ministers Abdul Subhan Khan, Ali Afzal Jadoon, Hidayatullah Afridi, Zahir Shah MPA and Haji Muhammad Adeel from the opposition benches also met the protesting journalists and assured their full cooperation to find out an amicable solution to the ongoing tussle between the government and the Jang Group.

The treasury as well as the opposition members while talking to the journalists said both sides were supporting them in their just struggle for press freedom and convinced the pressmen to end boycott. The audio tape containing conversation between Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman and Ehtesab Bureau chief Senator Saif-ur-Rehman were also played at the opposition chamber in the presence of Begum Nasim, Aftab Sherpao and others.

The journalists and opposition members including Arbab Ayub Jan and Ahmad Hassan Khan also wore black arm bands as a mark of protest against the government victimisation of the Jang Group and intimidation of journalists. Earlier, during the debate Bashir Bilour said that the arrest of the ANP MPA was based on mala fide intentions as all others nominated in the FIR have either been exonerated from the charge or freed on bail.

Akram Durrani of JUI-F said it was the democratic right of the members as well as people to hold public meetings and stage demonstrations in favour of their demands. He said it was strange to note that only Shoaib Khan was kept behind the bars while the rest of the people belonging to different political parties were set free.

PPP's Ahmad Hassan Khan said that government has favoured the MPA by arresting him as this "unwise" act has further enhanced his popularity graph. Tempers ran high between Ahmad Hassan Khan and PML-N's Hashim Khan when the former drew attention of the house that the latter has also addressed a similar protest gathering of people in Dir district but no action was taken against him.

This infuriated Hashim Khan and he resorted to an aggressive verbal attack on Ahmad Hassan Khan, saying that the PPP member has not clarified a news item about the recent installation of an electricity meter. Hashim Khan said that his address to the people at tehsil Adenzai was accidental and he agreed to take part in the protest only after the assurance of the people that no political slogan would be raised by anyone.

Ahmad Hassan Khan said his entire political career was like an open book and he had no choice but to instal a new electricity meter at his house after his brother shifted to a new house along with his family. PPP's Najmuddin said Malakand has been subjected to worst kind of loadshedding and load management, adding that the case against the MPA was lodged with ill intentions.

ANP's Iftikhar Mohmand said that no law could prevent an elected representative from attending the assembly session until the parliamentarian was disqualified by the Election Commission. He said the house was incomplete without Shoaib Khan Farid Toofan of ANP said that government should inform the house about the charges framed against the MPA because the treason case has already been withdrawn.

Naik Amal Khan of ANP also supported Toofan's plea and asked the government to prove its claim of the loss as no concerned officer of the department has given any such statistics in this regard. Haji Muhammad Adeel said smooth running of the assembly affairs could not be ensured unless the issue was resolved by withdrawing the charges and producing the MPA in the house.

Taufiq Khan of ANP said that even the chief minister or for that matter the law minister could not help if the people of their constituencies demonstrated against loadshedding. Begum Nasim said that the opposition benches would continue to stage token walkout from the house in the ongoing session till the release of the MPA. "We are used to such treason cases. The rulers will withdraw the same and will exonerate us like they did in the past," said begum Nasim. The house will resume its session today.

The News International Pakistan