Amir Mateen


ISLAMABAD: It was a rare scene nobody from our Press Gallery veterans had even seen or heard. The Senate opposition created history by having a mock public session in the Parliament lawn.

Local media is accustomed to this as many TV anchors practiced mock shows when General Pervez Musharraf banned them. But that happened during dictatorship. For the Parliament, which symbolises democracy and the freedom of expression, this was unimaginable. But there it was – a majority of 47 opposition Senators sitting on the grass doing a mock show of parliamentary proceedings. The seriousness being showed in following the agenda of the day was the most non-serious, if not hilarious, display of proceedings ever witnessed by our old-timers.

Chaudhary Nisar can take the credit or discredit for the whole episode. The opposition was justified in expecting a little humility from the Chaudhary. The issue was not about what Nisar had said about rechecking the figures about terrorism victims but the way he said it. It had a touch of obvious arrogance in it. The National Assembly is accustomed to the generally caustic style of Nisar, which he developed while spending over a decade in the opposition. But the Senate, which houses some of the ablest and most aggressive senior members of the PPP/ANP/PML (Q), is a different ball game. Obviously, the Chaudhry misjudged their tenacity.

Still, the opposition was reasonably fair not to ask for an apology. It was an exchange of bad tempers. Nisar was required to return to the Senate and say that he would re-verify his facts, which by the way, he had already said. This was a kind of face-saving for the opposition. Any sensible government would have jumped at the opportunity and diffused an inconsequential situation. But not Chaudhary Nisar! He would not do that and nor would let any member of his party propose that. He commands such a hold in the PML (N), some call it terror, nobody dared to persuade him to make a little effort to diffuse what was just a paltry issue of inflated egos.

Sadly, none of the government members tried to dissuade the opposition Senators from holding proceedings on the grass. Or even cared to show up to bring them back to the House. This was a dirty break from the age-old parliamentary tradition of the government always making an effort to appease the estranged opposition. And this went on for over a week. In fact, the government cared to notice their protest only when the eyeballs shifted to this unique display, thanks to the intense coverage of electronic cameras.

It was only when Khursheed Shah, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, requested the intervention of the prime minister that Chaudhry Nisar cared to respond. And what did he do? He asked for a full-scale investigation committee, which would study the visuals of the proceedings and then recommend to the Parliament. As if the government or this country was short of issues. The Parliament discusses the aftermath of Hakeemullah’s killings and a scare of reprisals looms over. The whole country is scared of resurgence in terrorism violence, starting with the sectarian killings in Karachi.

Yet the interior minister would not walk to the Senate to say a few pleasant words to appease the opposition.

Somehow Nisar specialises in creating mountains out of molehills. Governments are supposed to clear chaos and provide direction. The PML (N) government can take the credit that it adds to the confusion.

The government got a perfect start when all political parties gave it a unanimous mandate to deal with Taliban. The government failed to take the lead in charting out a policy and is now bending over backwards to destroy that unity.

The ongoing debate in the Parliament brings forth more and more dissent on issues. Political parties are now fighting over who is a martyr and who is not; whether we can stop the US from the drone strikes or not and if the drones are an effective tool against terrorism or a curse.

Somehow the fundamental issue of terrorism got deflected to the drone strikes, which are a fragment of a larger problem. Intriguingly, the Parliament discusses the drone issue but the advisor on foreign affairs is yet to brief the House on his take on the subject. And the prime minister, who retains the foreign affairs portfolio, refuses to come to the House.

In fact, he came to the National Assembly only when he had to take oath, then for the elections of the National Assembly Speaker and his deputy and his own coronation as the prime minister. The only two appearances after this were on the budget and the Presidential election. This just leaves everything to Chaudhry Nisar, who as interior minister also defines the foreign policy.

His assertion that we need to reconsider our relationship with the United States has thrown everything in a tizzy. PPP’s Shahida Rehmani aptly asked the reason for this sudden hard line. “Did the prime minister talk to President Obama about the drone strikes,” she asked.

“Drones are bad but somebody has to clean the mess; if it’s not us then we can’t blame the Americans.”

Mahmood Khan Achakzai concurred that Pakistan would lose its case on the drone strike at every forum including the UN. “We are interfering in Afghanistan, sending jihadis all over; how can we talk about our own sovereignty when we do not respect others’ sovereignty,” the Cicero in Achakzai could not resist saying the truth. He gave an easy solution to the Taliban problem: “stop interfering in Afghanistan, dismantle private armies, kick out foreign jihadis and make Fata an independent province.”

His final advice for Imran Khan was to “stop hitting sixers on every ball.” This, he said, will leave no reason for the US to launch drones in our territory. “And perhaps Chaudhry Nisar should also change his length for a change.”

But then this was asking too much. The interior minister needs to first resolve petty disputes with the opposition Senators before he could focus on bigger problems. It’s time for the prime minister to make an entry.

The News

November 7, 2013