‘Displaying complete indifference’ By Nusrat Javed

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The National Assembly of Pakistan was busy in eagerly discussing the budgetary proposals Wednesday when the news of an explosion in Lahore was flashed on TV screens as “breaking news.” The news triggered a flood of speculative stories on social media, some of which seemed clearly designed to promote the feeling of doom and gloom. The government could have easily scuttled them, there and then, if the interior minister or any of the federal ministers had taken the floor after appropriate briefing. But the government preferred displaying complete indifference in the given context.

Two PML-N heavyweights, Shahid Khaqan Abbassi and Khawaja Saad Rafique indeed delivered engaging speeches. But the former Prime Minister Abbassi, surely sounded extremely bitter. He also appeared rushing to discuss almost all issues related to governance these days. That produced a somewhat disjointed speech, although clearly conveying that Abbassi was simply not willing to lie low and wait for good times. He also targeted the ‘neutrality’ and ‘elegant conduct’ of Speaker Asad Qaisar with biting taunts and demolishing barbs.

The operative parts of his speech kept repeatedly claiming that the Imran government was deliberately conducting parliamentary business in a wanton manner. It wants the world to reach the conclusion that parliamentary democracy can’t deliver in Pakistan and it desperately needs the presidential system to survive and thrive. But Pakistan had already experienced the said system throughout the decade of 1960s. It eventually led to the separation of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.

Both General Zia and General Musharraf also failed to deliver despite ruling this country as patriarchal presidents, respectively for eleven and nine years. “Why go for a system, which produced nothing but chaos in the past,” Shahid Khakan Abbassi kept vigorously asking?

Most reporters, sitting in the press gallery, strongly believed that compared to Abbassi, Khawaja Saad Rafique had discussed things with a larger heart. He was one the first hawkish loyalists of Nawaz Sharif that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had arrested for grave charges of corruption, hardly a few weeks after Imran Khan took charge of the Prime Minister’s Office in August 2018. He had to spend many months in interrogative dungeons and then jail, but eventually got released on bail, granted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Ordering his release, the court had also passed scathing remarks seriously questioning the NAB’s conduct, which often smacks of witch hunting.

Yet, Khawaja Saad Rafique passionately pleaded that cutting across the party divide, peoples’ representatives should collectively conceive a road map, leading Pakistan to stable and functioning democracy and economic growth.

Farrukh Habib, the ‘junior’ minister of Information from Faisalabad, also delivered a scathing speech to viciously expose what he described as “sheer incompetence” of the previous governments. He remained too aggressive for promoting the story that Imran Khan was firmly proving that he was an exceptional leader, who is not corrupt and is seriously pursuing a well-thought-out vision.

Delivering a well-articulated speech Tuesday, Ahsan Iqbal of Pakistan Muslim League, consumed a lot of his time to dissect an interview, Prime Minister Imran Khan had recently granted to an American journalist on camera. The Prime Minister appeared too candid and spontaneous throughout the said interview and visibly seemed carried away to state things regarding Pakistan’s nuclear program, hinting at a huge policy shift. He seemed subtly suggesting that Pakistan could actively consider slowing if not completely abandoning its nuclear program, if the so-called global community forced India to furnish satisfactory resolution of the Kashmir issue.

One seriously imagined that participating in general debate on budgetary proposals, the rest of opposition members would keep rubbing in the points, Ahsan Iqbal had brilliantly articulated.

Strangely, not one speaker from the opposition benches cared referring to said interview. Some leading women members of the National Assembly, strongly associated with the cause of women empowerment, also preferred to ignore the remarks, Prime Minister Imran Khan had made in the same interview, to explain ‘causes,’ he believed, tempted a man to commit the heinous crime of rape. Merely scoring points remained the dominant trend in the national assembly sitting of Wednesday.

But at the outset of the Senate session, Raza Rabbani of Pakistan Peoples’ Party vigorously sought the floor to passionately defend Pakistan’s nuclear program and the history of Pak-India tensions that forced the need of it. Senator Mohsin Aziz from the treasury benches failed to produce a convincing rebuttal. He rather wasted most of his time in comparing the allegedly ‘slavish conduct’ of Pakistan’s previous leaders vis-à-vis the USA. Imran Khan on the other hand, Aziz announced with visible pride, consistently behaved like a ‘valiant Mujahid.’ He never supported the US-led war in Afghanistan, waged in the name of fighting against terrorism.

Keenly listening to the speech of Mohsin Aziz, I seriously kept wondering how to connect his description of Imran Khan with the remarks, Prime Minister had candidly made regarding the nuclear program of Pakistan.

Most senators were also expecting a detailed briefing on affairs related to the foreign ministry. As the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ms Sherry Rehman of Pakistan Peoples’ Party was expecting the much-awaited briefing to be held on June 25, 2021. But Shah Mahmood Qureshi would not be available on that day. Perhaps, he wants to stay put in the National Assembly on that day to ensure the smooth and speedy approval of the budget.

Yet, Shaukat Fayyaz Tarin, the finance minister, appears all set to deliver the winding up speech to defend the budgetary proposals, he had put before the National Assembly 12 days ago. Before delivering his speech, the finance minister should seriously vet the record of speeches some opposition members had delivered for projecting his budget like “an obvious attempt to build castles in the air.” Most opposition leaders also pointed out “massive holes” in the plan, Tarin had announced to push Pakistan on a fast track to growth.

The Finance Minister was seldom seen sitting in the house and patiently listening to the speeches delivered on budgetary proposals, during the general debate on them. Once he came for a brief visit to the National Assembly and immediately asked the floor, when Birjis Tahir, a vocal PML-N member had finished his scathing speech.

After getting the floor, Shaukat Tarin sounded visibly arrogant in announcing that he was the son of an illustrious soldier, Col. Jamshed Tarin, who had been widely acknowledged for dedicated participation in the historic movement that sought the creation of Pakistan in the 1940s. Being an honorable man of illustrious pedigree, he is not in the habit of telling lies and peddling false stories of hope.

Hardly a person will question the integrity and historic role of Shaukat Tarin’s father. Personally, I never savored the privilege of having frequent meetings with the Finance Minister; on some occasions we merely shook hands with each other. But that does not deny the fact that Shaukat Fayyaz Tarin is indeed a well-reputed banker.

But he must realise that currently he is the ultimate czar of the finance ministry. Instead of defending his personal and family history, while visibly swayed with rage, he has to furnish data-driven answers to a long list of valid sounding questions opposition members continued drumming during the general debate on budgetary proposals. Even some ruling party members also considered the budget proposed by him for being not too friendly to farmers and assuaging for the vast swaths of the left-behind sections of our citizens.