Bilawal Bhutto Zardari should have discovered by now that most people in power corridors don’t feel comfortable whenever he stands to speak in the National Assembly of Pakistan.
Desperately seeking eyeballs, 24/7 channels feel compelled to cut live to broadcast his speech, which is mostly focused, witty and engaging. Taking advantage of his media-pull, he often puts questions and states things that majority of our mainstream politicians prefer to avoid discussing in public these days, in the name of self-protecting “pragmatism.”
The PTI handlers of the parliamentary business had to devise a workable strategy to block his rise on the political scene through the speeches he delivers in the National Assembly. And they did succeed in developing one that perfectly worked for them Monday.
Not only the journalists sitting in the press gallery but also a huge number of TV viewers all over the country were indeed eagerly waiting for his speech, on a day when the NAB was finally able to arrest his father, the former President of Pakistan and Co-Chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party.
Asif Ali Zardari had employed all possible means, available in the law books, to delay the arrest that he had, in effect, been waiting for since many months. He exhausted all options available to him Monday when Islamabad High Court accepted the NAB’s position that without arresting and deep probing Asif Ali Zardari its prosecutors would not be able to get him appropriately judged by the accountability courts.
Thanks to sensation and scandal seeking media, “sources” from within the FIA and NAB had been spreading a plethora of juicy stories for many months that accused Asif Ali Zardari of “laundering billions of ill-gotten wealth via fake accounts.”
These stories certainly whetted the rage boiling in the hearts of a large number of our people, who felt cheated and betrayed by the rich and powerful icons of the ruling elite.
The nonstop drip-feeding of corruption stories about Asif Ali Zardari was about to hit the law of diminishing returns and the arrest had to happen to prevent that.
For sure, former president of Pakistan has now been removed from the political scene to endure long weeks of deep probe in a NAB dungeon that sources I trust insist was “specifically prepared” for him in a “safe house” of Islamabad.
Managing some relief through bail for cases initiated by the NAB takes too long and the procedure set for it is unusually horrendous and immensely expensive.
For the moment, the sole relief that Asif Ali Zardari can expect is a “production order” that the Speaker National Assembly is empowered to sign to ensure the presence of an elected member of the National Assembly in house-proceedings. The PPP legislators were essentially demanding for that at the outset of the assembly sitting Monday afternoon. The Speaker, Asad Qaiser, succeeded to calm them down without committing and then he gave the floor to Shehbaz Sharif, the leader of the opposition.
The PML-N President had returned to Pakistan in early hours of Sunday after spending more than six weeks in London. In his absence, most of us were made to believe that after realizing that his dogged “pragmatism,” miserably failed to manage any relief for his jailed brother and the party, Shehbaz Sharif had preferred “fleeing” to England.
Like Ishaq Dar, the former finance minister and Salman Shehbaz, the son of the PML-N leader, he had also opted to wait for hope-inducing days while staying put in the UK. By landing back Sunday, he surely scuttled the stories spread about him.
For another time, however, he disappointed many sitting in the press gallery by delivering an unbearably lengthy speech that lacked focus and energy. In a desultory manner, he tried hard to discuss almost every issue under the sun. Naming certain ministers during his yawn-inducing speech, he also helped them to “straighten the record” by invoking the privilege of speaking on points of personal explanation.
Shah Mehmud Qureshi, Fawad Chaudhry and Asad Umer took full advantage of this privilege to rebuke Shehbaz Sharif and by the time Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reached the house, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad had been waiting for his turn to respond.
Asad Qaiser and Qasim Suri, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, act like a perfect combo of good-cop-bad-cop. After managing calm on the PPP benches and allowing Shehbaz Sharif to carry on babbling non-stop, Asad Qaiser left the chair. Suri replaced him to enforce “discipline and order” in the House.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari kept asking that he should be allowed to speak before the Railways Minister. Suri refused to oblige, until Sheikh Rashid Ahmad finished his point. That provoked the PPP backbenchers to huddle around the Speaker’s dais to get mic for their Chairman.
After acting deaf for a while, the Deputy Speaker firmly told the PPP members that their leader would get time to speak only after the Railways Minister. In return, they began chanting the slogans of “go Niazi go.”
The PTI backbenchers from Karachi have admirably polished a delivering-trick to “neutralize” the go-Niazi-go chanting huddles around the Speaker’s dais. They also reached there to demand “water for Karachi.”
Their reaching there with taunting slogans, furnished the appearances of a building bedlam, facilitating the chair to adjourn the house with the excuse of preempting further chaos. And this denied Bilawal Bhutto Zardari the opportunity to speak on a day when journalists sitting in the press gallery and viewers all over the country did want to listen to him.
I seriously suspect that the Speaker will take time to sign production order to facilitate Asif Ali Zardari’s presence in the house. At least not on Tuesday, when the Imran government is all set to present its first budget.
Dr Hafeez Shaikh has prepared the said budget, almost exclusively. For being a non-elected technocrat, however, he will not face the rowdy bedlam and total chaos that the opposition has to generate to prove its strength and worth during presentation of the budget.
Perhaps the State Minister of Revenue, Hammad Azhar, may rush through reading the budget speech. “What next” remains the question, though?
The trick that the PTI handlers of the parliamentary business have employed so far to deny the limelight to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari can’t surely work during the general debate on budgetary proposals that should at least go on for not less than 10 days.
To ensure, even if chaotic, passage of the budget, the government has to pass through multiple procedural routes. Adjourning proceedings in the name of preventing rowdy behavior and chaos doesn’t work in the budget session.
The PTI handlers of the parliamentary business thus have to concede some space and concessions to the opposition to generate the feeling that it got its first budget “through an elected assembly after exhaustive discussion on it.
Lest you forget, the IMF has set priorities and the roadmap for the said budget. Dr Hafeez Shaikh is its executioner. Yet, an allegedly “sovereign house” comprising people “elected” by the people of Pakistan has to own the agenda set by ultimate monitors of the global economy. We have to swallow the force-fed medicine.
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