Islamabad: The upshot of the final day of yet another National Assembly session was the concluding speech by PML (N) chief whip Sheikh Aftab over the Presidential address.
Which speech, you might ask. Well, this colonial replica of the Queen’s Speech was made in June. It took the government nearly seven months to praise the President for his immense praise for the government. Funny that this was being done when the next Presidential speech was just around the corner. Even funnier were the remarks that depicted a honey-and-milk situation in the country. Aftab would have us believe that the security situation was absolutely in control -forget the daily news that pours in about killings, kidnappings, dharnas, bomb explosions and what not. He insisted that the masses slept a sounder sleep because of the great PML (N) economic turnaround – forget the ever-rising charges of ever-diminishing gas and electricity. His portrayal was so rosy that a colleague in the Press Gallery could not resist asking: “is he talking about Denmark?”
Aftab only had to look around to see how efficient and responsible his government was. He was the lone occupant in the three front rows of ministers who have left it to the parliamentary secretaries to run the government.
No matter what you write about the powerful Cabinet troika that controls the crucial ministries of finance, interior and energy, they simply refuse to attend the proceedings. Even the middle order ministers are habitually absent. We have hardly seen Ahsan Iqbal, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Rana Tanvir visiting the premises. Even Khawaja Saad Rafiq, a regular, shows signs of fatigue and comes to the Assemnly occasionally for a token presence. Murtaza Jatoi has left for home after tendering his resignation, protesting that he was industries minister only in name. He has given in writing that his ministry was being run by a powerful additional secretary who controls his key officials. It is a big mess out there and the PML (N) government needs to put its act together.
The session ended on a sour note leaving us high and dry about the key issues. The Assembly was not briefed what may have transpired at the Saarc conference or the tripartite dialogue in London. We would also like to be educated on the 15-day agenda of General Raheel Sharif. While the whole region is going through a re-alignment of sorts, nobody from the Foreign Office cared to take Parliament into confidence. Should not we have a full-time foreign minister in such important times?
The lapse on the domestic front was no less. Ishaq Dar simply refused to brief the Assembly about the economic relief package that should coincide with the historic slide in oil prices. Imran Khan was quick claim that it was because of his pressure that the government brought down petrol prices. PPP”s Nafeesa Shah aptly commented that it was because of the international oil prices that have come down by 33 per cent in the last six months. The PML (N) government still needs to lower local prices by at least 15 percent besides downing the rates of related products.
To give credit, the newly formed power club at the PM House seemed to have impacted the better presence of backbenches in the last three days. But then how do you hone the parliamentary skills of the PML (N) knitting squad nominated on women quota.
The only good news was that the chances of a PML (N)-PTI rapprochement seemed brighter. It is possible that the PML (N) might make its demands conditional for the PTI to return to the Assemblies. This would auger well for Parliament and perhaps everybody. If this gets over it would be important to analyse who learnt what during the great tussle.
The PML (N) seems lost on the tactical handling of the crisis and needs to see the environment where Imran Khan’s vitriol may have dampened it severely. Call it repetitive, crude or what you may, such rhetoric about corruption, dynastic rule and economic disparity have a way of sticking around on the popular imagination. And we have a whole new generation of young voters who take Imran’s as gospel truth.
It will be a big challenge for the Big Khan to put money where his mouth is in the long run. We have yet to see the PTI show any performance in Parliament where you need more facts than the container-talk. In fact, Imran needs to understand the basics of the Westminster politics that he likes to boast about. You learn it by practicing it and not by jogging around it. And our Dear Khan has not given enough time to attending parliamentary proceedings not just in the present ‘rigged’ Assembly but also the ‘fairest’ of all Assemblies of which he was a member in 2002. However, his biggest challenge remains the KP government’s performance. The PTI Camelot in Pakhtunkhwa is as wobbly as the one portrayed by Aftab Sheikh today. We are yet to see Imran deliver on the big promises in the KP. So far, his Lancelot in Peshawar is high on words, among other things, and low on performance.
The PTI also needs to re-check its criterion for new inductions. In its mad race to induct ‘electables,’ a la PML (N), it is giving a conflicting vision of its Naya Pakistan. The latest inclusion of perpetual turncoat Ejaz Chaudhary raises many questions. We know that the Chaudhary who flaunts snake leather shoes was tasked by elements in Rawalpindi to engineer a forward block in the PML (N). He had little scope in the PML (N) after his plan failed. The issue is that he awaits his disqualification because of his fake degree. Why should the PTI accept a person with such shady credentials? But then Big Khan has a way of belying political logic sometimes. Remember his demand seeking “death or PM resignations.” In politics one should be careful with words.
December 6, 2014