ISLAMABAD - The debate in the National Assembly on former president Asif Ali Zardari’s address to the parliament was again lost on Wednesday as MQM sought apology from PKMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai over his statement that the port city of Karachi had become a ‘city of terrorists’.

MQM lawmakers argued that it gave an impression as if all the Karachiites were terrorists. Achakzai, in his speech on the former president’s last address to the parliament, expressed strong concern on the Karachi situation and said it had become a city of terrorists. He said that Pakistan is currently passing through a difficult situation and emphasised on forging national unity.

Achakzai assured his party’s full support for cleansing of the economic hub of the city and demanded the incumbent government to thoroughly investigate May 12 incident. “It is indeed unfortunate that previous government has not probed this incident,” he said, adding that he was ready to registered an FIR of the incident.

The PKMAP chief said around 8,300 criminals were released due to the so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). He said since Pakistan came into being, corrupt people tried to run the affairs of this country. He said most of the political parties at that time did not support Pakistan’s ideology as they misunderstood it.

About Fata, he said the people of the very area even do not deem many mischievous activities happening in other parts of the country as wrong. He proposed that Political Agents of the tribal agencies should be given the status of secretary, adding that Pakhtuns had given many sacrifices for independence of Pakistan.

MQM lawmaker Sajid Ahmed sought apology from Achakzai for his remarks about Karachi. “We strongly condemn these remarks... If you are saying Karachi is a city of terrorists it means residents are also terrorists,” he said, adding that their forefathers migrated to Pakistan in the name of Islam. “We migrated for ‘Deen’. MQM is product of sense of deprivation,” he remarked. He said that MQM had faced a number of allegations including those regarding Mohajar Liberation Army and Jinnah Pur but it successfully got through all these blames.

Another MQM lawmaker Rashid Godil questioned why Achakzai was giving an impression to divide the country on linguistic basis. “Some people have MQM phobia,” he said, strongly opposing the idea about giving representation on community or linguistic basis. Taking the floor, another MQM member also sought apology from the PKMAP chief. They said that the May 12 incident was a conspiracy and someone interested in getting registered an FIR should proceed with it.

The shifting of debate from presidential speech to the Karachi issue irked a senior PPP legislator Abdul Sattar Bachani who said that during the last two hours not even a single word had been uttered about the presidential address – the item on agenda. Talking about the government’s intention to initiate dialogue with the Taliban, he remarked that the APC had resulted in killing of Army officials.

Another PPP MNA, Imran Zafar, said that the government should take appropriate steps against terrorists and miscreants and tell if it still wants to hold talks with the militants; if yes, then it should tell when and how it would initiate the dialogue process.

Taking the floor, MNA Arifa Khalid proposed that a committee should be formed to investigate the reasons behind increasing incidents of sexual harassment and assaults in the country. It should also be included in educational syllabus how to deal with such offences, she added.

PPP’s MNA Nafeesa Shah, on a point of order, said that the government should take step to reopen YouTube.

Taking part in the debate, AML chief Sheikh Rashid criticised PML-N government’s 100-day performance, saying that it is unfortunate that India was being given MFN status on the directive of IMF. He also criticised prime minister’s keeping nine ministries in his own hand. A young MNA from Mazaffargarh, Jamshaid Dasti, said that the government should inform about Abbottabad commission’s result. He said that the ISI DG should also take House into confidence about the law and order situation.

Responding to a call-attention notice, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed admitted that SIMs of Afghan origin are being sold on a large scale in KPK, especially in the bordering area. “PTA has no system to block SIMs that are operated from Afghanistan”, he said, adding that such SIMs were being used for criminal activities, including kidnapping for ransom.

Earlier, during the question hour, Sheikh Aftab Ahmad said that the Cabinet, in its meeting held on November 2, 2011, endorsed the efforts of the Ministry of Commerce for full normalisation of trade relations with India and directed Commerce Division to complete the process of trade normalisation for grant of MFN status to India.

In his written reply, he said that the Negative List of trade is yet to be ended and its elimination after the approval of the cabinet will imply the grant of MFN status to India. He said the ministry could not meet the timeline of December 13, 2012 to end this list as it was consulting other ministries and private sector stakeholders to assess and evaluate market access of Pakistani products to India.

To another question, the minister said that the decision to open Khokhrapar-Monabao route for trade between Pakistan and India had been taken at a meeting in Islamabad in February last year. The Commerce Ministry has been designated to deal with this issue. He also expressed hope that the government would be able to finalise the mechanism to initiate talks.

Talking about benefits of normalisation of trade with India, he said trade costs would be reduced due to availability of raw material, machinery would be available at cheaper rates and freight charges would be lowered. This would have a positive impact on the overall competitiveness and productivity of Pakistani industry, he said, as consumers would gain access to goods at competitive rates thus increasing their purchasing power. He further said Pakistani domestic industry would get access to a large Indian market and the linkages would improve the competitiveness of the domestic producers with access to better entrepreneurial, marketing, distribution and production practices.