Notes from the Press Gallery ’By Nusrat Javed

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I am seriously tired of repeatedly reminding while writing this column that the ongoing session of the upper house of parliament had been ENFORCED upon the government by a number-strong opposition.

Governments in a real democracy don’t feel comfortable with such requisitions. They rather feel doubly jittery, if not equipped with the clean majority in a house of parliament. But the Imran government has quickly discovered the limitations of our opposition. With utmost confidence, it rather waits, almost gleefully, for the opposition to ask for a Senate session and even bends to the extent of surrendering the right of setting the agenda for it.

The opposition had set a sizzling-looking agenda for ongoing session of the senate. Two weeks have passed and 60-plus opposition senators in a house of 104, certainly failed to move even an inch towards the targets set by them.

The government representatives, on the contrary, mercilessly utilized each sitting for drumming the message that Pakistan proved extremely lucky for being blessed by a leader like Imran Khan. None other than the Supreme Court of Pakistan had affirmed his piety, honesty and sagacity. He is simply not willing to forgive and forget the “the corrupt,” crowding the opposition parties of these days.

After failing to mobilize general public against the government through a series of rallies in major cities, the government kept insisting, the opposition finally enforced the Senate session, merely to score political points by wailing over ‘trivial matters.’ Like the vicious schoolyard bullies, the ruling party senators also continued teasing, mocking and deriding their opponents, throughout the ongoing session.

In spite of being led by more than a score of “very experienced parliamentarians,” the opposition senators failed to prevent and preempt them. They visibly looked lost, seldom exhumed energy and demonstrably behaved as if half-heartedly dealing with a routine chore. The opposition senators had no script to execute and the session, they had enforced, gradually proved counter productive for sure.

The prime objective of the enforced session was to “assert” the Senate’s “authority and sovereignty,” regarding the real or alleged doings of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Salim Mandwiwallah, the deputy chairman, prepared the grounds for it after holding a series of NAB-bashing press conferences.

Through the same, this scion of an established and well-reputed business family, tried hard to promote the story that the Imran government was vindictively using NAB to silence its vocal critics. After sponsoring and planting reputation-damaging stories in media, the “targeted critics” are eventually nabbed and later implicated in serious, but false, charges of gross corruption. Our political history is replete with such behavior of successive governments, however, and politicians have developed a very thick skin while dealing with it.

But the doings of NAB, consistently claimed Mandwiwallah, were now becoming ‘unprecedented’. Taking advantage of the “free hand” it savors under the patronage of Imran government, some zealot officers of NAB have started to “blackmail” top businesspersons and bureaucrats. The fear they instilled was increasingly discouraging investors and bureaucracy felt demotivated. Mandwiwallah also kept thundering to have collected a huge pile of stories and evidences to prove allegations drummed by him.

His homework and clout should have facilitated the number-strong opposition to assert and exercise the parliamentary right of oversight. Intelligently employing the enabling and clearly defined rules, provided by our constitution, they could easily have forced the Chairman NAB to appear before the Senate, or any of its special committee, to defend his conduct.

But the opposition senators hardly showed any vigor and determination to reach there. Most of them rather felt satisfied after delivering cathartic speeches against the doings of NAB. Their lackluster conduct superbly helped the government to continue reminding the opposition senators that the powers, NAB had been ‘diligently invoking’ these days had been granted by a duly enforced Law. If Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League really found them “draconian,” they should have reformed the said law during their turns in the government from 2008 to 2018. No wonder, the NAB-related agenda was eventually considered “talked out.”

Yet being the initiator of NAB-confronting move, Salim Mandwiwallah claimed to have found “it from media,” some days ago, that NAB had prepared a reference against him and he would soon be visiting courts to defend himself. Friday he tried to wail about it and once again failed to extract anything concrete. For obvious reasons, he does not want to appear as if fighting a “personal battle” against NAB and the government is brilliantly taking full advantage of his limits in the said context.

The opposition originally wanted to focus on the issues of food security, unbearable inflation and gas shortage during the Friday sitting. The government was again unwilling to listen to them with an “open mind.” Before reaching the Senate, though, Walid Iqbal, who had lately begun behaving like the one-man-assault brigade of the government, claimed to have personally visited not one but many grocery shops to check the market rates. They didn’t sound ‘alarming’ to him.

After reporting the ongoing rates of many items of daily consumption, he went on and on to educate the opposition about the real but deep aspects of inflation. This led him to recall the rates of inflation, currently gripping countries like Venezuela, Argentina and Iran etc. Pakistan, he finally said, with a sigh of proud relief, had yet not reached there.

Senator Dilawar Khan of the PML-N certainly sounded odd in the given context, when his colleagues were feigning being extremely agitated about unbearable conditions for the proverbial common man of Pakistan.

Through a point of order, he complained with a visibly hurt heart that when he recently visited Lahore Gymkhana, an elitist club, the staff there refused to serve him. As an elected member of the Senate, he savors the privilege of being a recognized member of the Islamabad club as well. To affirm the said status, the said club had given him “a duly issued card”. The personnel of Lahore Gymkhana were still not willing to act obliging and respectful.

Winding up the Friday proceedings, Omar Ayub Khan, the minister of energy, was expected to deliver a solidly pacifying speech, covering the issues of gas shortages and the rates of electricity. With utmost contempt however, he preferred to elaborate “reckless policies” of the previous governments, which seemingly made Pakistan a helpless hostage to circular debt and high rates for consuming gas and electricity. He sounded too candid in preparing us for more doom and gloom on this front, “at least until 2023”.

Lest you forget, the Imran government would be facing the fresh election in that year after completing its five-year term. I seriously wonder the “feel good stories,” Omar and his colleagues would tell to their constituents to seek votes to ensure another term.

The minister of energy didn’t appear concerned, though. His sole objective was to provoke and upset the opposition by taunting remarks and to do the same he always starts by taking on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PPP founder.

During the formative years of his political careered ZAB had worked as a shining minister in the government, our first military dictator, Ayub Khan, had formed after taking over in October 1958. Omar is his grandson and he spares no occasion to tauntingly rub in the point that ZAB consistently behaved like a patronage-seeking sycophant of his grandfather. And he conveniently got way doing the same Friday.