Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Daily Times Editorial April 8, 2015

Hard landing The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) elected representatives’ re-entry into the Assemblies after a boycott of over eight months did not exactly prove a smooth affair. In the joint session of both houses of parliament, their entry was marked by slogans, shouted remarks and taunts, not only by parties from whom this was expected, but also by some from whom it was not. While opposition parties MQM, JUI-F and ANP fell in the former category and acted out according to script, the ruling PML-N strangely initially saw backbenchers creating a storm, and later, the chief speaker from the treasury benches, Defence Minister Khwaja Asif, losing his cool at the returnees. The rival opposition parties of the PTI (MQM in Karachi, JUI-F and ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) opened the attack with a few bouncers such as slogans of ‘Go Imran, Go’ in an ironic echo of the PTI’s ‘Go Nawaz, Go’ slogan during its agitation. But it was inexplicable why PML-N backbenchers found it necessary or useful to shout at and heckle the PTI returning members when their government has been at such pains to defuse the crisis that arose over the PTI’s sit-in in Islamabad. Even Speaker Ayaz Sadiq’s plea to Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid to calm down his party’s backbenchers and get them to adhere to parliamentary decorum failed to cut much ice. That behaviour could have been forgiven as the raging resentment of PML-N backbenchers against a party that had been abusing and castigating its leaders for over eight months from on top of the famous container. But what was entirely incomprehensible was Khwaja Asif’s charged attack on the integrity and character of the returning PTI members. What had provoked Khwaja Asif to so lose his cool? It appears from reports that it was PTI chairman Imran Khan’s remarks to media during the break between the morning and afternoon sessions, in which he continued his stubborn insistence on the Assemblies being fake as a result of rigging in the 2013 elections that may have provoked the Khwaja Asif assault. Speculation whether this was an individual getting angry or a plan by the treasury benches (including the earlier backbencher heckling) to give as good as they got from Imran Khan and the PTI are doing the rounds. Imran Khan tried to nail the ‘plan’ by pointing out to media later that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sitting next to Khwaja Asif when he lashed out at the PTI, but made no effort to restrain him. True or not, one can only scratch one’s head what the PML-N was up to and what it hoped to gain thereby. After all, once the momentum of the PTI agitation slackened, not the least because the opposition parties, led by the PPP, came to the government’s aid and support against Imran Khan’s ill conceived effort to subvert the system, the PML-N had expended considerable time and energy on defusing the confrontation through giving the PTI a face-saving exit through setting up a judicial commission and inviting it to return to parliament as a consequence, an invitation the PTI eventually accepted. So was the PML-N now trying to sabotage the chosen course? If so, there could be a considerable fallout. The only sensible people in the joint session appeared to be the PPP, whose Leaders of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Shah, and Senate, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, tried to save the day by the former welcoming the return of the PTI members as a victory for parliament and democracy and the latter questioning Khwaja Asif’s rampage’s motives and intent. Unfortunately, the quite unnecessary fracas, with MQM and JUI-F walking out after registering their protest at what they believed were illegitimate PTI members sitting in the session and the PML-N and PTI ending up with daggers drawn and bad blood, distracted focus from the real purpose of the joint session: Pakistan’s policy vis-Ă -vis Saudi Arabia’s request for military help in the context of the Yemen war. All that main purpose of calling the joint session received was a prepared statement read out by Khwaja Asif in the morning session. After that, all hell broke loose and sabotaged in the process the crucial debate on a matter that goes to the heart of Pakistan’s foreign policy and national interests. The joint session tragically came out looking less than responsible and serious, preferring as it did partisan politics over critical national policy formulation. Interestingly, a minor fracas in the Sindh Assembly aside, the PTI members were welcomed back with open arms in both that Assembly as well as the Punjab one. If only our ‘senior’ elected members of the National Assembly and Senate could take a leaf or two out of the book of their ‘junior’ provincial colleagues, Pakistan may have been better served.

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