In a novel protest, Pakistan senators held their session on the lawns of the National Assembly complex here on Wednesday. They were protesting against the “wrong figures” given by the Interior Minister on deaths due to terrorism.

The Senate hall was almost empty and lacked quorum while over 40 Opposition members sat under a makeshift tent and conducted the proceedings. Some members sat on the ground while others had chairs. There was an impromptu visitors gallery as well and a presiding officer. The protest drew a response from Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, whose statement on terrorism on October 30 sparked protests about the misleading figure of casualties leading to a nine-day standoff in the Senate. Mr. Khan told the National Assembly that he had not refused to answer questions and had conducted himself as per procedure. The figures provided by him were correct for the drone strikes and terror-related deaths, the Minister said.

Aitzaz Ahsan, Senator from the Pakistan People Party (PPP), said the Minister had stated that 136 incidents of terrorism were reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa between June and October, 2013. When the figure of deaths was 187 or so, only 120 were reported killed. “We have given him the least embarrassing option, we have not asked for an apology. All Mr. Khan has to do is to retract the answer, which everybody agrees is wrong. But the Minister has refused to do that. None is able to bell the cat. A wrong answer is in the records of Parliament.”

The former Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, a Senator who took part in the open session, told The Hindu that the government wanted to avoid clarification on a serious issue and the protest would not be withdrawn until the government made amends. Senators asked: “How can an outfit which killed hundreds of people become a stakeholder in peace talks?” While Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was being dubbed a martyr, everyone had forgotten thousands of people who died due to terrorism. Mehsud was no ambassador of peace, said a senator from the Awami National Party.

The issue was raised in the National Assembly by Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah. He said that at a time when Pakistan was confronted with a crisis, it was regretful that a small issue was holding up Senate proceedings. The question on the number of people killed in terror attacks was asked in the previous session and it was answered last week. He urged the Prime Minister to resolve the issue.

According to Chaudhry Nisar’s statement, 12,404 people were killed in terror acts since 2002 and 26,881 injured. Earlier, the government had said 12,795 were killed in terror attacks. The Opposition asked how this number could go down. The Minister’s reply to the number of terror incidents between June and October 2013 was 636. The figures are much more, claimed the Opposition.