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MMA’s drive to cash in on passport issue
By Tariq Butt
ISLAMABAD: The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) is trying to capitalise on the official decision to exclude the religion column from the machine-readable passports, introduced recently.
The MMA is holding an All Parties Conference (APC) here on Saturday, where it will criticise the government for deletion of the column. The old passports carried the religion column.
The APC is also a warming up exercise for the fourth MMA protest public meeting in Rawalpindi the following day, agitating against President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s continuation as the Army chief beyond December 31, 2004.
The rally is part of the MMA’s first phase of the protest campaign, which was unfolded after the parliamentary approval of the two offices bill, enabling the president to retain the office beyond the cut-off date. The previous three public meetings were held in Karachi, Multan and Lahore.
The Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) is nonchalant about crossing out of the religion column from the passports and is unlikely to send its representatives to the MMA’s APC. It doesn’t regard the government decision as objectionable.
Like the PPPP, many others don’t share the MMA view on the ground that when leading Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia did not have the religion column in their passports, what is the problem if Pakistan has deleted it. People at large also do not buy the MMA’s argument. They feel that the MMA is agitating for political objectives.
The government has expressed its resolve to stick to the decision. Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao says the religion column will not be restored in the new passports as it isn’t needed, and the government will adequately respond if the issue is raised in parliament.
Minister of State for Religious Affairs Dr Aamir Liaquat, belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, was going to be severely attacked by the participants of the MMA APC for his frivolous statement against religious seminaries. But after he has publicly apologised for his remarks, he may be spared.
As the MMA holds its last rally of the first phase of its campaign, its new deadline to Musharraf to leave the Army office or face consequences expires the same day. It has announced that it would unfurl its future strategy at the Rawalpindi rally.