The defiance from within ruling coalition By Nusrat Javed

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Five members of the National Assembly, otherwise sitting on treasury benches, certainly surprised and embarrassed the Imran government Friday morning. After leaving their seats, they sneakily reached close to the Speaker’s dais and defiantly displayed a handwritten placard. It demanded expulsion of the French Ambassador from Pakistan.

Instead of furnishing some answer to their demand, the government preferred to quickly manage proroguing a National Assembly session, it had summoned even during the peak of panic generating third wave of COVID-19. It rather defended the said summoning by referring to constitutional edicts, which specifically state that at least 130 sittings of the National Assembly must be held during a parliamentary year.

The government could obviously not sustain the charade of “devotedly fulfilling its constitutional obligations.” It essentially wanted to use the National Assembly for defusing some potentially explosive developments. But the number-strong opposition is just not willing to ease its burden and now some ruling party members have also begun to feel reluctant in sharing the blame for colossal and relentless mismanagement of multiple issues by the government.

Some ruling party members had already shown ‘distance’ from the government by not voting in support of Dr Hafiz Sheikh on March 3, 2021. The government had nominated him for a senate seat from Islamabad and he could not win against Yousaf Raza Gillani, a former Prime Minister from Pakistan Peoples’ Party.

During the election for this seat, however, some ruling party members of the national assembly took advantage of the facility of secret ballot. But on Friday, at least five of them had come into the open.

Noor Alam, a powerful MNA from Peshawar, was the most prominent among them. Completely surprising was in the showing of Rai Khizar Hayat, a PTI MNA from Chichawatni, an important town of Central Punjab. Also significant was the coming out of Mir Khan Jamali, a member representing a party called Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), otherwise considered a firm ‘ally’ of the Imran government.

The defiance from within the ruling coalition witnessed Friday has also forced parliamentary reporters to wonder about the fate of the budget, which the government has to present before the National Assembly before June 30, 2021.

A rage-inciting outfit has originally been drumming the demand of expelling the French ambassador for many months. The leaders of this outfit strongly believe that the French government calculatingly encourages a relentless campaign, promoting hate against Islam and Muslims. With matchless passion, the same leaders also developed a powerful narrative.

This narrative vigorously insists that being the most populous ‘Islamic Republic,’ equipped with nuclear weapons, Pakistan must lead the campaign for a punitive push back. It should start with severing diplomatic and trade relations with France. The expulsion of its ambassador from Pakistan was also promoted as the first-step in the given context.

To press for the desired expulsion of the Ambassador, the same outfit eventually brought a large crowd of its followers to Islamabad with the clear intent of mobbing the French Embassy. When the police completely failed to disperse them, the government rushed to negotiate with leaders of the said outfit. Two of the federal ministers resultantly signed on a written government, which committed the expulsion of the French Ambassador as well.

The government was surely wrong to presume that its cunning had defused an ‘explosive situation.’ The sudden death of the leader of the crowd-mobilising outfit, immediately after signing of the said agreement, also made it feel doubly complacent. It genuinely thought that heirs of the dead leader would soon forget the promise made regarding the French Ambassador. Even if they remembered, hardly a person among them had the capacity to incite mobs by passionately drumming an emotion-stirring narrative. Imagining this self-serving scenario, the government indeed behaved like an ostrich.

Coming closer to April 2021, the heir of the dead leader feverishly began reminding the government that through a “written agreement,” it had promised to expel the French Ambassador. It was time to fulfill the promise and April 20th was set as the cut-off date for it. The government opted to respond with a ‘preventive strike.’ It arrested the son of the dead leader and this provoked mob fury at some crowded spots of major cities of Pakistan, especially Lahore and Karachi.

The government refused to budge, however. The mob-inciting outfit was ‘banned’; many of its leaders and workers were then booked under serious charges of terrorism for indulging in vicious attacks on crowd-controlling personnel of the law enforcing agencies.

Finally, the Prime Minister addressed the nation on Monday of the current week. Through his address, he clearly explained a set of valid-sounding reasons, inhibiting Pakistan from expelling the French ambassador from its soil.

Yet the morning after this address, which sounded like a categorical ‘no’ to the demand of expelling the French Ambassador, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, the interior minister made a surprising announcement. He revealed that three rounds of negotiations with jailed leaders of an outfit, his government had already pushed in the list of “proscribed organisations,” were being held. They had finally produced a win-win looking agreement between the government and the ‘banned outfit.’

The leaders of the said outfit were willing to call off the protest. But to appease their enraged cadres the government was required to put a resolution in the national assembly, demanding expulsion of the French Ambassador.

To execute the promise, made to jailed leaders of a ‘banned outfit’, the government hastily summoned a national assembly session on previous Tuesday. At the outset of this sitting, Amjad Khan Niazi, a ruling party backbencher, was given the floor. As an “individual member” he rushed through reading a resolution, the content of which had been developed during negotiations with the government and the jailed leaders of a banned outfit.

The said resolution expressed the desire that the national assembly should “consider” the question of expelling the French Ambassador and furnish comprehensive answers to it. To facilitate finding of these answers, the Speaker should also constitute a “special committee” of the House, where each political party present in the national assembly is duly represented.

While passing on the question of expelling the French resolution to the National Assembly, the said resolution also asserted in categorical terms that deciding on foreign affairs remained the “exclusive” right and privilege of the government and “no individual, group or political party” could be allowed to dictate on these affairs by building pressure in the streets.

The opposition reacted furiously. Pointing out the striking contradictions in the language of the tabled resolution, speaker after speaker from their benches fiercely lynched the government for adopting a “deceptive but visibly flawed and hypocritical approach” while handling an issue, considered too emotional for an overwhelming number of Pakistanis.

Speaker Asad Qaisar could not handle the heat, aggravated by fiery speeches by the opposition. In panic, he adjourned the house until Friday.

Instead of Asad Qaisar, Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri came to preside the Friday sitting, which started an hour behind the fixed time. At the outset of it, the opposition representatives eagerly sought the floor to find out what had happed to the ‘resolution,’ the government had managed to put in the house Monday, with pomp and fury.

Suri preferred to act deaf and dumb and adamantly kept telling the house that he would not permit any deviation from the day’s agenda. His rude and stern behavior provoked a large number of the opposition members to leave their seats and gather around the Speaker’s desk like a slogan-chanting picket. That made it extremely difficult for Suri to regulate proceedings according to his design.

s if the chaos, generated by the opposition was not enough to confuse Suri, five members from the ruling benches also began walking closer to the Speaker’s dais like a group. They did not join the slogan-chanting crowd and selected a different spot to mark their exclusive presence and merely relied on flaunting a placard. And this compelled Qasim Suri to flee the House after quickly reading through the proroguing order.