Will we see our future being discussed behind closed doors?

January 02,2015

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ISLAMABAD: What a farce! PPP’s Khursheed Shah chose to speak on oil prices just when we expected his ilk to enlighten us on how they want to sort out Taliban mess in the aftermath of the Peshawer bloodbath.
True, the PML (N) government has not decreased the local petroleum prices in accordance with the 40 per cent slide in international rates. The official logic for five per cent increase in general sales tax on petroleum products to compensate for the alleged Rs70 billion in tax receipts is also full of holes. One, the oil imports have not shown the corresponding decrease in funds and then the government gets compensated for other windfalls in balance of payments. But Khursheed Shah could have left this otherwise important issue to the more economics savvy Naveed Qamar to raise it at another time, another place.
The special session of the National Assembly, we thought, was convened to showcase the Get-Taliban plan. We all got sick of the daily chant about the “strengthening of the national resolve” to finally take on the good Taliban along with the bad paradoxically categorised as white, grey, black, jet black and what not. Come on guys! It is about time we realised that they are all bad and hence evil.
We never got the chance to see a shred of such clarity on the opening day of the session at least. Even when Khursheed Shah opened the debate on the Peshawar massacre he was seen dilly-dallying around the subject.
There was graphic imagery in his rhetoric but he never came around the action part. His PPP counterpart in the Senate, Aitzaz Ahsan and his deputy, Raza Rabbani had clearly deviated from the stated party position the other day. They had opposed the setting up of military courts and had suggested middle ways to circumvent a constitutional amendment. We could not judge from Khursheed Shah’s speech whether he supported the Aitzaz-Raza duo or not.
The MQM sounded equally ambivalent, as did many others. Perhaps the political parties were waiting for the action rabbit to come out of the APC hat. It made sense for them to be noncommittal before the government proposals were grilled in the APC today. The government was locked in its discussions with the Army to chalk out a 20-point action plan, which was being leaked to the media in bits and pieces.
We returned home with a volley of unanswered questions: whether there will be a constitutional amendment to implement the action plan or any changes in the Army Act or the Anti-terrorism Act will suffice. It is yet to be seen if political parties approve the suggestions unanimously or if there is a division. How about the numbers required for the constitutional amendment in case there is a division? Will liberal parties agree to the dreaded military courts? Will the MQM stop worrying about thousands of its workers who could be subjected to the new laws and courts? Will religious parties let their brothers-in arms go to the gallows easily? How about the Baloch sentiments, which might see it as a potential trap?
Most important, how will Imran Khan’s PTI react? Even if King Khan takes a drastic U-turn on his earlier stance on Taliban, it will be important to see if the PTI returns to the Assemblies to vote for the action plan. After all, the PML (N) and the PTI are still at loggerheads on the formation of the judicial commission. We hear the PTI giving new dates to restart its dharna. Also, watch out for the results of the four controversial constituencies. Whatever its outcome, they have the potential to turn the political chess game upside down.
Here is the crux: who will use whose shoulder in the APC today.
Whether the PML (N) will use political parties to impress upon the establishment how sincere it is in fulfilling its wish list that includes military courts. Or whether political parties will use the PML (N) shoulder to agree to the unpopular demands in the name of national cohesion. So far, the PML (N) seems embarked on the maximalist agenda of delivering the military courts - whether it takes a constitutional amendment or only changes in law. Let’s see who will blink today at the APC: whether the PML (N) whittles down its agenda in the face of severe opposition or it gets political parties on board.
Either way, even the best unanimity will have to pass the test of time and the public opinion. A familiar pattern seems to be at work. The initial frenzy against the Peshawar massacre is giving way to minor chinks here and there. Political parties are more watchful of their petty local interests than of the larger national clamour. The khakis are overly focused on military courts that, besides being controversial, might just be a small tail of the terrorism elephant.
The ‘DMG’ babus have shifted the entire blame on the judiciary. They would rather have military courts, which by the way justifies their perennial demand of restoring the colonial executive magistracy, than giving more powers to police. After all, the police remain the first line of defence and need to be empowered more.
The judiciary seems baffled after the inertia of many decades. It was overactive on the wrong front but now sees its turf being washed off from under its feet. It still has the trump card of reversing anything that might happen in Parliament. Let’s hope not!
A much larger game is being played for which our political discourse seems shamelessly deficient. We just hope that we see the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of the action plan discussed threadbare in Parliament.
Politicians and generals can go ahead and iron out their differences behind closed doors but rest of the society should be taken along. The only way to do that is by discussing it openly in the public domain of Parliament where nothing should be bulldozed.

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