Notes from the Press Gallery ’By Nusrat Javed


Both of our main opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), are crowded with people who had been returning to the national assembly since the early 1990s. From 2008 to 2018, they took turns

in government and opposition as well.

In comparison to them, Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) was mostly conceived as novice and outsider to political games. After the election of 2018, it surely emerged as the single largest party. But it desperately required the support of a motely group of ‘smaller parties’ to form the government. After elected as ‘independents’ to the national assembly, a large group of them also joined the ruling party to solidify its number. Yet, the ruling coalition remains deprived of a formidable majority.

Its vulnerable-looking numbers often motivate parliamentary reporters and political commentators to imagine that thanks to an impressive crowd of “very experienced members,” the opposition has all the capacity to dominate parliamentary proceedings. The government should rather think twice before “enforcing its agenda” and forget getting away with unilateral decisions. It surely is

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time to smell coffee.

For another time Monday, PTI handlers of parliamentary business have rather proved, clearly, that they continue savoring absolute command and control over parliamentary proceedings. The opposition hardly has any script to pursue and has completely lost the desire to act like spoilers, even if meekly and half-heartedly.

The government had summoned the national assembly to meet on Monday, simply to deliver the one-point agenda: passing the burden of passing two laws to a joint parliamentary sitting. It strongly believes that Pakistan desperately needs to get these laws passed to pull itself out of the grey list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF). And it certainly achieved the set target without much ado, rather too smoothly.

The said laws had literally been bulldozed in the national assembly. But when they were sent to the Senate, the number-strong opposition there seemingly “rejected” them with very loud voice voting. The opposition continued to claim otherwise.

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With the zeal of hair-splitting scholars, some of its leading lights like Raza Rabbani rather kept explaining to us that they had not “rejected” the FATA-connected laws per se. In effect, they had opposed ‘the motion,’ which sought the permission of tabling the assembly-approved FATA-related laws for immediate consideration and approval. Since the said laws had not been “rejected,” if you strictly follow the book of rules, they must again be put before the Senate. There was no need to send them to a joint parliamentary sitting.

But hardly a person from the opposition benches in the national assembly cared to block the sending of these laws to a joint parliamentary sitting Monday evening, on grounds their colleagues from the Senate had been drumming for so many days. Syed Navid Qamar of the PPP was certainly too late to express ‘reservations’, but almost casually.

The opposition looked embarrassingly helpless for a simple reason: Brilliantly employing its narrative-building skills the PTI had relentlessly promoted the story that the opposition had been acting “selfish”, while taking advantage of its numerical edge in the Senate. In return to their cooperation for the smooth and speedy passage of FATA-connected laws, “the slaves of Asif Ali Zardari and the Sharifs” were seeking “relief” for their ‘masters,’ currently facing serious charges of corruption.

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PTI spin-doctors also projected the feeling as if Pakistan had reached FATF’s grey list, not for the incidents of “terror financing” only. “Money laundering” was a major reason as well and both Asif Ali Zardari and the Sharifs had recklessly been indulging in it.

They kept recalling that Imran Khan had reached the prime minister’s office with the promise of cleaning our politics from “looters and plunderers.” He is simply not willing to forget and forgive. It remains the opposition’s burden to decide whether it really wants to see Pakistan out of FATF’s grey list, by wholeheartedly extending unconditional support to the smooth and speedy passage of the laws designed to combat “money laundering.”

The opposition miserably failed to spin a counter-narrative. It could even not explain to majority of Pakistanis as to why we were put in FATF’s grey list, to begin with. Also unaddressed remained the question whether the government proposed laws had been drafted to satisfy the FATF only. They were not laden with definitions, clauses and loopholes, empowering the government to fix its vocal critics with vengeance. Without a forceful script, the main opposition parties continued waging a losing battle.

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If you go be the logic of numbers only, the Imran government should rather feely shy of tabling FATF-connected laws before a joint parliamentary sitting. Thecombined strength of all the opposition parties will apparently savor a thin yet six votes edge there. But it doesn’t feel any need to seriously consider the said edge.

The plethora of cases, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) continues to pursue against many leaders of the opposition parties, have literally dampened the morale of their parliamentary colleagues. They rather feel crippled by the fear of NAB. Even the “brave types” don’t feel motivated to presumably “derail the system” with hawkish posturing. That furnishes ample time and space for the Imran government to get away with whatever it plans in the name of “good governance.”

After helplessly facilitating the government to extract what it had planned for Monday sitting of the national assembly, Shahbaz Sharif, the opposition leader and the PML-N President, took the floor to deliver a long and furious speech. Through the same, he wanted to push the government in a tight and defensive corner while emotionally referring to the recent rape of a lady, stranded at Lahore-Sialkot Motorway.

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Cutting across the party divide, the said incident had certainly shocked the overwhelming majority of our people. Yet, the question remains that if “our representatives” really felt outraged about it, they should have forced the speaker to defer the rest of agenda for discussing the brute incident with a focused mind and humane heart at the outset of Monday sitting of the national assembly.

Such incidents are usually discussed through “adjournment motions,” anyway. The “legislative business” always follows them. But we are suffering a unique form of “democracy” these days and parliamentary business is fast adjusting to its compulsions, essentially due to a number-strong but qualitatively very weak opposition.

Little wonder, the speeches, delivered from both sides of the house, regarding the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway tragedy took no time to turn point scoring. “Our representatives” hardly felt any shame while audaciously indulging in merely shaming and blaming ‘the other.’ Their speeches deserve but contemptuous disregard.