The row that has broken out over Imran Khan and Shaikh Rasheed’s cursing parliament during their address at Tahirul Qadri’s rally in Lahore the other day shows little sign of going away any time soon. While the latter threatened to resign, the former cursed parliament for having allowed a disqualified alleged ‘money launderer’ and ‘thief’ to become chief of a political party. The reference is obviously to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The following day, fiery denunciations of the erring duo accompanied the adoption of a resolution of condemnation supported by all parties except the (absent) PTI. Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah posed a very pertinent question to Imran Khan: “Do you want a dictator to lock up parliament and then bow before him?” This was a pointed dig with reference to Imran Khan’s self-confessed flirtation with General Musharraf in the hope that the military dictator would appoint him prime minister. Asif Zardari, who had ‘shared’ the stage at the Lahore rally with Imran Khan (albeit separated in time and space), argued that the government’s set legislative agenda could be blamed for passage of the bill appointing Nawaz Sharif head of the PML-N but not parliament. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif demanded that both the abusers be brought before the house and arrested if they failed to turn up. The resolution adopted at the end condemned both Imran Khan and Shaikh Rasheed, calling them vulgar and cheap. Away from the heated atmosphere in the house, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi felt it was wiser to leave the issue to parliament’s appropriate committee (privilege of the house), since its committees were fully empowered. The PML-N leadership met with Nawaz Sharif chairing and, amongst other matters, contemplated bringing in legislation providing punishment for contempt of parliament. Nawaz Sharif asked the rhetorical question why the cursers don’t quit parliament. If the PTI’s track record is any guide, this is a distant prospect only a few months from scheduled general elections when they had no hesitation in returning to parliament after announcing their resignations during the 2014 Islamabad sit-in.
What Imran Khan seems bent upon is exposing his inappropriate ways at every given opportunity. For one, he seems ignorant of the difference between parliament as an institution and parliamentarians (divided amongst discrete parties) who have the right to, and more often than not do, differ with each other, but within the confines of parliamentary norms and language. That is a skill Imran Khan has yet to acquire, partly at least because of his infrequent appearances in the house (40 appearances reportedly in the last four years). The distinction mentioned above and acceptable parliamentary norms and language seems equally lost on the PTI legislators and supporters. The former, following in their leader’s footsteps, repeated the abuse against parliament and the presiding Deputy Speaker the following day. What lies behind this behavior? The most likely and appealing explanation is that Imran Khan (and his supporters) are frustrated at not being able to overthrow the government (by hook or by crook) despite their best efforts over the last four years. They need to be reminded that parliament is the supreme lawmaking body in a democracy. It has given the country the basic law of the land, the constitution. In principle only parliament has the right to amend that constitution, although in our sorry history every military dictator has been empowered by the judiciary to play around with that sacred document, which has threatened again and again to turn Pakistan from a lawful society into one run by the law of the jungle (might is right). But Imran Khan in particular has shown over the years his narcissistic sense of entitlement, and this leads logically to the dichotomy where he curses a parliament that has not endowed him with the prime ministership he craves, but is likely to praise one that may anoint him in future. However, Mr Khan needs to relearn the lesson that the road to the highest office lies through parliament, the embodiment of the will of the people.