NA speaker averts Nisar-Achakzai showdown ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq on Wednesday averted a possibly explosive confrontation between Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai.
A day earlier, the veteran politician from Balochistan had sought time from the deputy speaker to respond to the interior minister’s speech — made in the presence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last week — where the minister had condemned him for questioning and criticising the role of intelligence agencies in the wake of the Quetta tragedy.
Since Tuesday is private members day, Mr Achakzai said he would not like to disrupt the agenda of the day and would speak on Wednesday. Chaudhry Nisar had also asked that he be allowed to respond when Mr Achakzai made his remarks the next day.
But when it came time for both leaders to speak, the speaker prorogued the session, putting a damper on both men’s preparations.
Expecting a caustic duel between the two battle-hardened politicians, the press gallery saw more than its usual share of attendance. A few senior journalists also turned up to witness the show, along with the uncharacteristically-attentive beat reporters.
As soon as proceedings commenced, all eyes were on the right-most front seat in the hall, reserved for Mr Achakzai, who only came to the house after the mandatory Question Hour had been dispensed with. The interior minister, by contrast, was present in the house from the very outset.
Session prorogued before either had a chance to speak; insiders say war of words between allies would’ve reflected badly on ruling party
The stage looked set for a powerful performance from both sides; the PkMAP chief’s desk was stacked with bookmarked volumes and several sheets of A4 paper, which he continued to read as the speaker proceeded to run through agenda items.
On the other side, the ever-confident interior minister looked determined to defend his position.
Both Mr Achakzai and the interior minister belong to the treasury benches, headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The PkMAP chief had stood by the PM in his confrontation with the PTI and the powers-that-be and is a valuable ally for the ruling party. For his part, the interior minister has led the PML-N government efforts to improve law and order in the country.
But some prudent thinking prevented the house from witnessing fiery speeches from the two time-tested orators. The moment the speaker dispensed with the scheduled business of the house, without making eye-contact with Mr Achakzai or the interior minister, he announced a presidential order to prorogue the sitting.
The announcement was surprising for many in the press gallery, who came expecting fireworks. “I think things have been managed at a certain level,” commented one senior journalist.
Later, upon inquiry, it was learned that the speaker had requested the PkMAP leader to avoid getting into a blame game, as it would only vitiate the atmosphere in the house and create bad blood.
But whether the speaker took this initiative on his own or at someone’s behest, sources in the National Assembly secretariat said that after Mr Achakzai’s announcement a day earlier, efforts were made by certain quarters to avert a confrontation.
“Whoever was behind defusing this potential confrontation, the day has been saved for the prime minister because infighting among allies will only reflect poorly on the federal government,” said a senior NA official.
A PkMAP insider confirmed the intervention by the speaker, adding that Mr Achakzai had come prepared to take on the powerful interior minister. “Had my party chief been allowed to speak his mind today, he would have settled his scores with the interior minister, whose slate is not as clean as he often claims,” the party member said.
Sources say that Chaudhry Nisar was in no mood to back down from his stated position either. The interior minister had condemned the PkMAP leader on the floor of house for casting aspersions on the security establishment.
When pressed, a PML-N member of the federal cabinet defended the interior minister for taking potshots at Mr Achakzai last week. “How can the PkMAP leader criticise national security institutions deployed in a province where his elder brother is a serving governor?” the minister asked.