Islamabad, April 13 (IANS) A controversial deal with the Taliban in Pakistan’s restive northwest which has attracted international condemnation has been tabled in parliament as the government wanted to build national consensus on the measure, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Monday.
He was speaking in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, after the tabling of the Feb 16 deal on imposing Sharia laws in the Malkhand division of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), including the Swat Valley, in return for the Taliban laying down their arms.
‘We did not want to by-pass the house as the parliament is sovereign,’ APP news agency quoted Gilani as saying.
‘We want that our hands should be strengthened and that the whole nation is behind us,’ he added.
‘The president gave his consent (to signing the accord). He gave a go ahead and have an agreement with the local authorities. The agreement was done with our consent,’ Gilani maintained.
Observers here saw the statement as Gilani’s bid to downplay reports that the Swat accord had become a hot potato for President Asif Ali Zardari, who had now tossed this into parliament’s court, instead of ratifying it.
At the same time, it is a fact that parliament was not consulted when Zardari gave his nod for the accord.
Earlier, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Babar Awan tabled the draft of the Feb 16 deal.
This has upset the Awami National Party (ANP), a junior partner in the federal coalition and which leads NWFP’s ruling alliance, which says it was not consulted.
According to The News, ‘Zardari does not want to be held responsible for any negative fallout if this deal backfires in future, as then parliament will be responsible’.
Many Western nations, including the US termed the deal a ‘retrograde’ step as it was seen as bowing before the Taliban and getting in return too little for giving up too much.
The deal appeared to have come unstuck last week with Taliban-linked radical cleric Sufi Muhammad, who had signed the deal with the NWFP government, winding up his peace camp and leaving Swat to protest Zardari’s delay in acceding to the accord. He then clarified the pact was intact but was dependent on Zardari signing it.
Gilani, The News noted, ‘was also said to have been caught off guard when he received the copy of Nizam-e-Adl (Sharia law) from the presidency to table it before parliament as he, too, like rest of the politicians was expecting the president to sign the agreement’.
What apparently tipped the balance was Parliamentary Affairs Minister Awan, who advised the president against taking responsibility for the deal.
‘Awan was of the view this deal should be sent to parliament for discussion, debate and subsequent approval or rejection,’ The News said, adding the minister said that if parliament, representing the people of Pakistan, was ready to ink the deal with Taliban, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government ‘would not be singled out in case the deal went wrong at any stage’.
Protracted fighting between the Pakistani security forces and the Taliban has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee Swat. Estimates vary, but human rights monitors believe that up to 800,000 of the valley’s 1.8 million people may have left.