Amir Mateen


ISLAMABAD: The ‘new Pakistan’ that Imran Khan promised us in the last election is yet to make its mark – as far as the National Assembly is concerned.

Except for Asad Umer, Arif Alvi and Shafqat Mahmood, who may be new in the National Assembly but is an old hand in politics, the new entrants seem like a rudderless lot. The youthful PTI backbenchers are yet to impress us with any spark. The vigour and energy that they were supposed to bring to Parliament is missing. So far, it’s mostly shrieking and shouting that they occasionally burst out from their back seats. Remember one Mujahid Ali made headlines by expressing solidarity with Salman Taseer’s murderer. Many other eccentrics lurk in the PTI ranks. And the Skipper is not helping them either. Imran Khan, it seems, emulates Nawaz Sharif in attending the Parliament as infrequently as possible. Well, the Prime Minister can get away with his absence but not the person who aspires to take down the Big Two ‘evil’ parties.

In fact, we are told that Imran has reduced his role to a part-time politician. He is generally not accessible after 7 in the evening and is not to be bothered – unless the Queen of England dies or Pakistan Air Force shoots down a US drone. The media has been left to the whims of Shireen Mazari. She hates every journalist who does not swear against Yanks five times a day.

The two veterans, Javed Hashmi and Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who could have helped are not even on talking terms. Going by the nature of their tussle, the two Makhdooms of Multan act more as children than veterans. Javed Hashmi refuses to forgive Shah Mahmood for taking his slot as the deputy PTI leader on the front rows.  Of late, Baghi Hashmi gets overly sensitive on minor issues.

On Wednesday, he got unnecessarily angry when Shafqat Mahmood, while chairing as Speaker, requested him to cut short his speech on the price hike. Hashmi had already taken more time than the allotted and Shafqat, on prodding by the Assembly staff, politely cautioned him about the time constraint. The Baghi in Hashmi threw a tantrum and sat down in protest without finishing his argument.

In any case, it was a lackluster speech. Hashmi never forgets to mention Nawaz Sharif as his leader, which gives the impression that he wants to return to his parent party. We have noticed Khawaja Saad working on this mission by cajoling his old friend occasionally.

This hardly looks like a party that, many thought, is the best thing that happened after Quaid-i-Azam. Arif Alvi did a better job by focusing on cutting government expenses. We would like him to start by suggesting this to his own KP government, which keeps the biggest provincial cabinet. One could not disagree with him on taxing the wealthier classes and how the elite gets richer by the day. He should know as, according to journalist Umer Cheema, he filed tax returns of only Rs112,898 for his Alvi Dental Hospital last year.

The sorry state of opposition affairs lets the PML (N) government get away with unprecedented inflation. We all know how the sharp increase in the commodity prices and utilities plays havoc with the public life. Yet the prime minister chose to admonish the media the other day for not giving coverage to the falling rates of onions and tomatoes.

We are told official media managers made extra efforts to get the tomato-onion story flashed. Well, this was smart. It is so easy to bring down the prices of two commodities by pumping supply. But inflation is not just about onions and tomatoes. How about 40 other essential items on the consumer index? Even the official web site admits that “CPI inflation, General, increased by 10.9% on year-on-year basis in November 2013 as compared to 9.1% in the previous month and 6.9% in November 2012.”

What else do you expect when the dollar rate has climbed to Rs108 despite Dar’s protestations to the contrary? No wonder the poor man had developed a cardiac problem. Either the prime minister was misinformed or the government takes us pun-pushers too naïve.

Whatever the reason, not a single government member gave any explanation about the growing inflation. The only exception was Danyal Aziz. He made sense that the increase in commodity prices was largely because of fiscal and monetary policies. They cannot be controlled through local price control committees as being portrayed by our bureaucrats. As he put it “the prices have doubled in the last few years largely because of market forces; the price control machinery can hardly make a difference of a rupee or two.”

He smelled a rat in the bureaucratic scheme to restore the colonial office of the judicial magistracy. “Our babus want to retain the perks of the Gora Bahadar,” he thundered, a pile of documents in his hands. “They have been able to dupe part of the judiciary that has allowed this administrative transgress in judicial affairs.”

Danyal argued that if price hike could be brought down through administrative measures why could not the babus do it in Islamabad where they retain the office of the judicial magistrate.

The Supreme Court sits on the Balochistan High Court’s decision that declared judicial magistracy as against the Constitution as it violates separation of the judiciary from the executive.

It’s a long drawn out battle that Danyial has been fighting. He is swimming against the tide, as Shahbaz Sharif wants a compliant administration to help him in political control. No wonder the Punjab government is so reluctant to hold the local bodies’ polls.

Tailpiece: It was interesting to listen to PML (N)’s minority member making so much fuss about honesty and accountability. She got the National Assembly seat because her husband was found holding a fake degree. Some things never change!

The News

December 12, 2013