LAHORE - Monday’s Punjab Assembly session proved equally toe-curling for both the opposition and the treasury.

Both sides were there in the House with their embarrassing past and present as the House debated the Sahiwal incident involving a controversial operation carried out by the law enforcement agencies on Saturday last. 

As the Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Mohammad Mazari allowed open debate in the house, the treasury and the opposition members tried their best to draw parallels between the Model Town killings and the recent Sahiwal incident in a futile discussion which ended up only in political point scoring.

Sitting on the opposition benches after a decade, it is PML-N’s dilemma that whenever it takes on the treasury on any issue, it is reminded of similar incidents which happened during its tenure. It was but natural for the treasury to bring up the issue of yet-to-be settled Model Town affair when the PML-N lawmakers grilled the ministers for Sahiwal incident. In this context, they also had to listen about the infamous Sabzazar killings which took place during first tenure of Mian Shehbaz Sharif as the chief minister. The name of Abid Boxer, a police officer notorious for extra-judicial murders also echoed in the House in the same background. 

Showing grace in politics is a tall order though, yet the House witnessed some sane speeches as well from the two sides yesterday. The speeches delivered by Opposition leader Hamza Shehbaz, Law Minister Raja Basharat and PML-N’s legislator Muhammad Ahmad Khan were exceptional. To the astonishment of many, the element of usual point scoring was clearly missing from their talk. 

Muhammad Ahmad Khan even went to the extent of saying that Model Town incident was a blemish on the PML-N’s face. Speaking in the context of Sahiwal incident, he also observed that Opposition had complete trust in the intention and capabilities of the present law minister to resolve this matter. Ahmad Khan also saw a disproportionate use of police force in the two incidents, conceding thereby that police’s role in Model Town killings was also doubtful.

But it was only after a provocative speech by Industries Minister Mian Aslam Iqbal that Ahmad Khan responded by saying that government should not justify the Sahiwal murders by citing the extra-judicial killings taking place in the past. He also told the minister that Model Town incident was actually a stand-off between two armed groups unlike the Sahiwal encounter. 

Prosecution Minister Ch Zaheeruddin chided the opposition citing the foreign posting given to the ex-Secretary to the chief minister Syed Tauqeer Shah after the Model Town incident. He also hinted at placing the names of the accused CTD officials involved in Sahiwal encounter on the exit control list saying the government would not take any pressure from any side.

During the house debate, it was conspicuous to note that while the die-hard PTI ministers-Mian Mahmoodur Rashid and Mian Aslam Iqbal-vehemently spoke about the Model Town killings, the new entrants like Raja Basharat and Ch Zaheeruddin showed cautious response over the incident. It is relevant to mention here that people still regard the latter two ministers as members of the PML-Q due to their past affiliation with the Chaudhrys of Gujrat.

In the given situation, the Punjab government is surely in a catch-22 situation after the Sahiwal happening. If the government concedes that CTD operation was flawed, it will not only be tantamount to challenging the legitimacy of its earlier operations, the future encounters with terrorists would also become doubtful. And, if the Government declares the Sahiwal incident as legitimate, it may have to pay the political price as being a government which is not different from the previous one.

Also, the treasury on Monday seemed quite demoralized mainly because of the apparently blemished Sahiwal encounter and the visible cracks in Punjab coalition. When the House was debating the CTD operation, PTI’s coalition partner, the PNL-Q, was having an important meeting in Islamabad to discuss the future relationship with the PTI. Its spokesperson, Kamil Ali Agha minced no words when he openly declared that the PTI government was not taking his party into confidence over important issues. 

Opposition members also questioned the conduct of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar who went to the hospital to inquire after the child victims carrying a bouquet. The opposition members contended that it was unbecoming of the chief minister to present bouquet to the injured children when their dead parents were yet to be buried. The treasury offered no defense of the chief minister for the obvious reason that it was hard to defend.   

In the absence of Ch Parvez Elahi, Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Mazari tried to strike a balance between the Treasury and the Opposition benches. Two sides of the aisle had a fair chance to speak on the Assembly floor.