ISLAMABAD: The PML-N government definitely needs to put its act together. It’s always embarrassing when a sitting government can’t maintain quorum, which means gathering a mere one-fourth members of the National Assembly.
It was even more embarrassing for the PML-N government when the session got adjourned for the lack of quorum. The reason is that the party sought laurels for gathering more two-thirds members earlier this week. What has happened since then, you may ask.
Well, the rare unity shown in passing the 21st Constitutional Amendment is in a shambles. In the little time that the Assembly proceedings lasted there were at least four walkouts.
First, it was the Fata members. The members from the war-torn tribal belt are in protest mode for quite some time but nobody cares. They have genuine grievances as in the absence of any Fata Assembly these members are the sole representatives. So every time they visit their areas people look up to them for resolving their issues. And you can imagine the enormity of problems in an area that has been in the eye of the terrorism storm for decades now. It’s not just about development and administration, the biggest issue is the rehabilitation of internally displaced people. One expected the government to take their problems a little more seriously.
However, there is slightly more here than meets the eye. Actually, it’s all about seeking a Cabinet slot. The issue is that the PML-N already has Abbas Afridi from the Senate in the Cabinet. He runs the Textile Ministry though his family business is construction. The Afridis are the Gulzar-Waqar-Khans of Fata who like to buy their way in parliament to watch their business interests. Interestingly, the younger Afridi, Amjad, who was a minister in the ANP Cabinet, still holds a cabinet slot in the PTI government in the KP. So the PML-N finds it difficult to adjust another Fata member in the federal cabinet. But then why not, you may ask. If the PML-N can have seven ministers from Gujranwala Division why can’t it have another from the Fata, which is twice the size of Gujranwala? So it made sense when the PPP joined the Fata in their walkout.
The funny thing about the other two walkouts was that they were staged by the JUI and PML (functional), which happen to be coalition partners of the PML-N government. In fact, the quorum was also pointed out by JUI-F’s Amir Zaman. This was, again, against the parliamentary traditions as you can’t point out a quorum if you are part of the government. Here is JUI-F’s dilemma: It wants to act as the opposition but desperately wants the perks that come with the government. Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s party was part of every government in Balochistan in 27 years out of the last 29 years. It is for the first time since 1985 that the JUI is not part of any provincial government either in the KP or Balochistan.
Fazlur Rehman’s situation in Islamabad is also not ideal. His party is part of the PML-N coalition but he is eyeing for the lucrative Communication Ministry. As parent party of most Taliban and banned sectarian parties, Fazlur Rehman also has to appease the religious extremists. He has already survived at least three attacks on his life. So he has to constantly balance between the government and his Taliban sponsors-cum-pressure groups. This was why he abstained voting instead of opposing the recent constitutional amendment. It was a favour to the government and the establishment.
To keep the Taliban happy, he has taken refuge behind the argument that the military courts should not exclusively deal with religious and sectarian extremists. He wants terrorism to be dealt as terrorism and should not exclusively focus on religious extremists. Why not, one may ask. After all, we have to first recognise that we have a serious issue of religious and sectarian extremism. The scale of casualties caused by the Baloch insurgency is hardly three per cent out of the 55,000 dead in the last decade. Also, the context of the Baloch problem is totally different from that of the religious extremism. The over 500 dead Baloch insurgents did not even get the luxury of military courts as they were killed and dumped without any judicial procedure.
Of course, it’s a smart move by Fazlur Rehman. He is using the same argument that is being put up by Musharraf lawyers. Both of them want the scope of their cases expanded so that it should become impracticable. In any case, if Fazlur Rehman has serious issues with the legal changes, he should resign from the government benches. Or stop pointing out quorums!
The PML-N too needs to pull itself together. The only time we get to see the government in action is in Parliament. And it seems, to say the least, pathetic. You can tell the PML-N big-wigs have no interest in party matters. It does not have functional law and foreign affairs ministers; the ministers dealing with the crucial sectors as energy, interior and finance hardly turn up at Parliament. This does not leave any inspiration to the middle and lower order in the PML-N. The senior lot has no interest in the party affairs and the induction of the new blood keeps getting delayed. This does not portray a picture of an efficient and responsible government.
The Nawaz government is lucky to reap windfalls in the shape of lowest world oil prices. The Peshawar massacre, though heart-wrenching, also bailed out the PML-N government from a political stalemate. But Nawaz Sharif can’t always rely on external affairs. Perhaps it’s time to pull a few ears.
January 10, 2015