As a humble student of political messaging, I failed to imagine reasons that forced Imran Khan to announce in the national assembly Tuesday that he wasn’t too keen to hold the prime minister’s office. He has gone there, to primarily promote and execute a clearly defined ideology. Combating corruption stays top on his agenda and he would not adopt forget-and forgive-approach about it, only to protect his KURSI (the chair).
The message, he conveyed, sounded misplaced in the given context. Without much ado, his government had easily managed a smooth looking approval of its budgetary proposals. Only the other day, it proved enjoying the support of significant numbers, 160 against the combined strength of all the opposition parties, 119.
He was rather expected to deliver a ‘victory speech’in the given context. After all, the smooth passage of the budget had completely demolished the feeling, spreading and deepening for the past two weeks, that Imran government had entered the stage of absolute drift.
One of its allies, Balochistan National Party of Sardar Akhter Mengal, opted to part with the ruling alliance. The PML-Q appeared as if looking for options. Then an interview went viral on social media, wherein a vocal minister, Fawad Chaudhry, described the federal cabinet as a house viciously divided in multiple camps. After his interview, some backbenchers of the ruling party loudly spoke against the ‘lack of effective governance’ these days, while participating in general discussion on budgetary proposals.
During the two-week-long discussion, a weighty PTI MNA from Faisalabad, Raja Riaz, frequently tried to get recognized by the chair. For not getting the floor, he would walk out of the house in protest by deliriously shouting about issues, he believed deserved utmost intervention by the government.
The PTI handlers of parliamentary business smartly engaged the opposition to ensure smooth sailings in the house. The sweet-talking motivated the opposition to forgo its right of enforcing headcounts by vigorously pressing their cut motions. As if to furnish credibility to goody-goody looking scene, the prime minister also walked into the house last week. He also surprised many by delivering a ‘soft speech,’ which sounded amazingly ‘different’ for a ‘born-fighter’ like Imran Khan.
After achieving its target by appeasing pretentions, the government switched back to its fighting mode after entering the house with full strength Monday. Taking advantage of the numerical edge, Murad Saeed and Shah Mehmud Qureshi took on the opposition with absolute contempt.
Ali Zaidi, the minister for shipping, did the same a day after. He ruthlessly milked the privilege of speaking on a “personal explanation” to spin the story that Asif Ali Zardari and his son were, in effect, running a mafia under the garb of a political party. They patronize hardened criminals and serial killers.
Widely quoting from some reports,joint teams of investigators from various crime fighting and intelligence gathering agencies had presumably prepared, he continued to viciously bad mouth Asif Ali Zardari and one of his sisters, Faryal Talpur. Both of them were projected as heartless ‘dons’ of a mafia.
Ali Zaidi claimed that Pakistan Peoples Party had brought “terrorism” to Pakistan by launching an outfit, called ‘Al-Zulfikar’. In 1981, its diehard loyalists also hijacked a PIA plane. He laughed at the suggestion that his leader, Imran Khan, had a soft heart for Taliban and organizations emulating them in Pakistan.
“To correct history,” he went back to the early 1990s to remind the world that Nasir Ullah Khan Babar, a powerful minister of interior during the second government of Ms. Benazir Bhutto, always felt too proud while openly “owning Taliban.” A section of media rather described him as “their father.”
Asad Qaisar, the Speaker, made half-hearted attempts to stop Ali Zaidi from venom spitting. After his lengthy speech, the PPP struggled hard to exercise its right to reply. The Speaker pretended being accommodating while giving the floor to Syed Navid Qamar, a soft-spoken gentlemanly type. But he demanded that since Ali Zaidi had also named Abdul Qadir Patel, he should be given the floor to respond from the PPP. Meantime, some PTI hawks feigned to be walking to opposition benches with bullying intent. That provoked Syed Navid Qamar to take off his jacket to exhibit his resolve to fight back.
The Speaker felt compelled to give the floor to Qadir Patel to manage peace. This blunt MNA from Karachi started his speech with direct and below-the-belt sort of attack against the person of Imran Khan. Asad Qaisar instantly switched off his mike. All the opposition members walked out to register protest against his “partisan conduct.” The Speaker did not feel the need to explain and defend himself. He rather asked Hammad Azher to start presenting a very long list of supplementary grants to get them approved by the house. In a record time of less than two hours, the job was completed in the absence of opposition legislators.
After smoothly passing through all the necessary ropes of budget-passing process, Imran Khan took the floor to deliver a speech to convey the message that the opposition must not expect any mercy from him.
I strongly feel that ‘victory moment’ rather required the prime minister to mainly focus on explaining the strategy he had in mind for dealing with economic blowback of not only an ongoing pandemic but also the potentially devastating attack of the locusts, expected to enter Pakistan by the end of this week.
The will to combat “mafias” remained the dominating theme of his speech. With utmost contempt he also kept calling Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif as prominent operatives of the greedy and profit-seeking mafias. His ire did not spare Khawaja Asif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari either.
It is but too obvious that after the smooth passage of its budget, the Imran government now feels very comfortable. It strongly believes that the opposition has no strategy and the will to bounce back in political game.
The PTI government has solid reasons for disregarding the opposition. The PML-N is the largest political party of the opposition, sitting in the national assembly with significant strength. Its 80-plus MNAs, however, failed to mount a spirited attack on budgetary proposals. Its lead stars also failed to articulate an “alternative scheme” for fiscal management, sounding convincing and doable.
The PPP seriously tried to ‘fill the vacuum’ with active participation. It does not have ‘fiery’ orators, though. Agha Rafi and Abdul Qadir Patel primarily baffle the government with street-hardened tactics and language.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari surely sounds passionate but assertive while speaking in the national assembly. The office he holds, Chairman PPP, demands restrain. He can’t afford to project the image of a ‘perennial heckler’ about him.
The PTI hawks like Murad Saeed and Ali Zaidi have yet to fathom the reality, however, that by ceaselessly taking on Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, they are conveying to many that the PTI takes the youthful PPP chairman as the real and ultimate threat to their hold on the political scene.
The polarization between the government and the opposition has surely deepened during the last two sitting of the national assembly. Things between the two are set to turn more ugly in the days to come.