Islamabad: It made sense for the PML-N government to postpone voting on the 21st constitutional amendment, even if it was necessitated by circumstance.
We could see chink in the so-called national consensus. Obviously, the government could easily muster the required 228 votes for the constitutional amendment in the National Assembly as long as it was supported by PPP and MQM. But it was important to have maximum possible consensus. The PPP had emotional reasons not to approve military courts on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s birthday. After all, the good old ZAB was a victim of the very military courts.
Imran Khan’s PTI had agreed to the legal changes in principle but has still not returned to the assemblies. One would have expected the PML-N to be a little extra generous in bringing the PTI back to the parliamentary fold. The PTI demand to make Article 118 (3) (seeking fair elections) as the terms of reference for the judicial commission does not sound illogical. But even if the PML-N had agreed to the PTI demand, Imran Khan was not in the country to attend the assembly. The social media is abuzz with (un-denied) rumours that he was in London to take his former wife, Jemima, into confidence about his alleged marriage. We hate to spread rumours but Imran’s ambivalent responses continue to fuel speculation. This is not the time for using comical reference about the rumours of his marriage being “highly exaggerated.” Why can’t you simply deny it in plain words, Skipper! Or own it. We might just celebrate it.
Most important was the U-turn staged by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. He had agreed to the government proposals in the All Parties Conference – perhaps influenced by the swagger of the Malacca Stick. Yet he was quick to backtrack on his support to the legal amendments. It was trademark Fazlur Rehman to get the best deal out of a lousy hand. Some thought that he had to cater to his religious vote bank that is largely dependent on thousands of Deobandi madrassahs. Others believed he was scared of Taliban who have already attempted on his life many times. Still others speculated that he might just settle after extracting a few more goodies, particularly the lucrative ministerial portfolios that he wants for his JUI colleagues.
Whatever the case, he gave a distorted analysis of the situation. The crux was that we should keep our hands off madrassahs as they have already undergone the required reforms during the Musharraf times. Well, the terrorism monster grew up because Musharraf, largely because of his legitimacy reasons, did not have the guts to reform madrassahs.
Fazlur Rehman would have us believe that none of the madrassa students was involved in any terrorism activity. This was preposterous. For all we know almost 90 per cent of suicide bombers were madrassah recruits in the last decade.
It is good if the PML-N could rope him in but not at the cost of buying his argument. Madrassah regulation and reforms happen to be the lynchpin that holds the grenade from explosion.
It is good to have maximum consensus but not in the shape of appeasement that might jeopardise the whole exercise of ridding this country of extremist terrorism. Like it or not, religious parties do not represent more than three per cent of Parliament. And the tail of religious parties should not wag the larger elephant of terrorism. Come Senate elections, it will be reduced to even less.
It was important that the government articulated its reasoning for the changes in law. Ultimately, it is the people on the street that the PML-N should convince – not just the heavyweights behind closed doors. However, many thought Nawaz Sharif should have led the narrative in Parliament. Chaudhary Nisar was not suited for the job. For a start, he had delivered the opposite speeches in favour of Taliban not so long ago. In fact, he is responsible for a delay of at least one year in launching this war against Taliban, which cost at least 10000 more lives.
Nisar simply can’t let his government and party grow bigger than him. His speech seemed more like his own explanation than of his government. It was all about “I” and “Me.” We could notice Nawaz Sharif squirming on his eat when Nisar’s speech got longer than required. Somehow Nisar had to explain his faux paus about Tandoors and his favourite being: “I am not used to holding myself back but I let it go because of national interests.” Somehow this marshal Rajput from Chakri reminds you of that French monarch who believed “I am the State.”
Perhaps the Prime Minister should conclude the debate by taking the public into confidence about his reasoning for this tough call. After all, it is the Prime Minister who would get flak if things turned the wrong way. But if he is able to deliver, no matter how unpopular, this could be a Giuliani moment for him. Remember that mayor of New York who made a name for himself for stand-up in the aftermath of 9/11.
Moral of the story: It is not always what you do but what you are seen to be doing that matters. The PML-N should take more time in explaining its reasons for doing what it is doing and why it is doing. And also let us see what others say or do not say. It is a moment of reckoning. And the last face that Nawaz Sharif needs to champion this cause is that of Nisar. No hard feelings, Chaudhary Saab. It is nothing personal.
January 6, 2015