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Pak ministers threaten to quit over Bhatti's murder

March 04, 2011 16:31 IST

An emotionally-charged meeting of Pakistan's Cabinet on the day Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated almost ended in the "near collapse" of government after several ministers accused it of inaction in the face of rising lawlessness, a media report said.

Almost all members of the Cabinet "mutinied and charged their own government with inaction and indecisiveness in the face of the rising trend of lawlessness in the heart of the federal capital," The Express Tribune newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying. Two ministers -- Law Minister Babar Awan and Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Raza Rabbani -- said during the meeting on Wednesday that they were ready to "quit the Cabinet in protest," the report said. The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani hours after Bhatti, the only Christian member of the Cabinet, was gunned down by militants for his opposition to the controversial blasphemy law.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination. The daily quoted its sources as saying that Cabinet members were "more furious over the government's inaction in the face of rising militancy than anything else." The ministers were "more chagrined that those in the government responsible for fighting militancy were doing nothing more than issuing inane statements after each tragedy." The Cabinet members wanted Gilani to hold "these people accountable and let some heads roll."

The ministers demanded the sacking of those responsible "for the poor law and order in the country" and indirectly questioned the "performance of all the agencies which are assigned the task of protecting the life and property of the citizens."

The report said Awan and Rabbani led the charge and "were so agitated that both of them told visibly embarrassed Cabinet colleagues that if no one was ready to demonstrate the required moral courage, they accepted the responsibility for failing to prevent the assassination of Bhatti and were ready to tender their resignations." Both ministers said they might cause "others" to feel shame over how they let their own government down with their combination of inaction and verbosity, "speaking out regularly while practically having done nothing to check the rising incidence of violence in the heart of Islamabad."

The situation might have "escalated beyond salvage" but Gilani reportedly saved the day by announcing that he would take responsibility and resign. "This manoeuvre worked wonders as it cooled down the ministers' fury," the report said. Though the report did not name the person against whom the Cabinet members had directed their ire, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has come in for considerable criticism from the media and civil society for his handling of the security situation across the country.

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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