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October 6, 2017

Treasury MPs acted on spur of moment to vent their anger


October 6, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: On the face of it a walkout by three-four federal ministers along with treasury MPs during ongoing National Assembly proceedings can safely be dubbed a democratic exercise. The Pakistani political context, however, hints at something fishy, disciplined field exercise that may lead to a revolt-cum-forward block at the treasury benches in the days and weeks to come. But only if such a need arises. Till now, such an eventuality seems a far cry. It is being safely dubbed something prompted at the spur of the moment to vent out anger and frustration. And all this happens on a list of 37 MPs who are being allegedly or falsely named by Intelligence Bureau (IB) for having contacts with sectarian and terrorist outfits as per a list shown by a television anchor that is being investigated. The IB officials say such an order by its chief is not possible as he would never order a subordinate in writing on such a sensitive matter, the letter number is incorrect, and the signature doesn't match. They claim outrightly such a letter never existed as it seems handy work of some rival agency. That’s why Speaker Ayaz Sadiq wanted an emotional minister Riaz Pirzada to calm down and meet IB chief in Speaker’s chamber on Friday. But Pirzada was not in a mood to listen to. He walked out of the National Assembly after an emotional speech hailed fully by the Opposition benches. Ministers Awais Leghari, Sikandar Bosan and some treasury legislators who were part and parcel of the alleged list, followed the suit. Dispatched by the Speaker, they were however quickly persuaded by Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir’s diplomatic skills to return to their seats. On moral grounds, one would have expected some resignations in such an eventuality, but none of the ministers felt such a need. Having landed in the PML-N before the 2013 elections, a majority of these aggrieved legislators came from PML-Q. Many of them were part of the Musharraf dispensation from 2002-7. Some of their colleagues are important players in PTI after getting political refuge there. And all of them know how and when to switch sides on the direction of “Umpire” of Pakistani politics – the catchword got prominence as PTI Chief Imran Khan used it for the ”real establishment” during the 2014 Islamabad sit-in.

Ever since the Panama case verdict, the Pakistani politics has been able to find another topic to divert its political rhetoric and energies – choose a NAB chief of choice. PTI-MQM needed to overthrow the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly to have a major say and stake in the process. Such an eventuality still remains a far cry due to lack of required votes, the consultations between NA Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah and Premier Abbasi have entered a final stage. As PPP advocates a consensus candidate, PML-N sources say former premier Nawaz Sharif wants selection of Aftab Sultan as a first priority. Naturally, some influential people out there don’t want to see a gutsy professional like Aftab Sultan as the next NAB chief. So that’s why we are seeing one controversy after the other involving the top civil spy agency. Any rival agency behind these moves is anyone’s guess? But PTI’s trolls are working well to defame Mr Sultan and his organisation on social media. Having a solid and clean repute, Mr Sultan has worked efficiently to deliver goods and win the confidence of former premier Nawaz Sharif. That’s why he has enjoyed two extensions ever since his retirement from regular service. He delivered during and after the 126 days long PTI sit-in, and at a lot of crucial movements during Panama case, JIT formation etc. Mr Sultan is learnt to have developed a team of professionals who despite limited resources did some interesting and in-depth work countering many moves of the rivals. That’s why the elder Sharif wants him as NAB chief. Ever since the names comes forth, we hear an employee of his agency moving court raising pointed fingers at its operations, then the much-hyped Sultan-Sharif meeting in London which has been rebutted and now this list of 37 legislators from treasury and opposition aired by a TV channel with its vested agenda.

That said, restoration of original oath wording of the members of legislative assemblies (altered slightly in Electoral Reforms Bill 2017) was a top agenda item as the National Assembly met Thursday. It was done within a matter of minutes through consensus and sent to the Senate. But PTI‘s Shah Mahmood Qureshi wanted an inquiry into the issue, to roll some heads if it was a deliberate effort by some civil servant “baboo” or handy work of some minister. The issue unnecessarily stirred religious emotion throughout the country since Monday last. And Sheikh Rashid pounced on such an opportunity as he tried to stir religious emotions on mainstream and social media aided by PTI’s organised trolls. Rashid tends to think that such a happening, termed “clerical mistake” by the government, is a deep conspiracy by vested interests. But he and PTI tried to make it an issue to attract more votes from the religious right leaning masses in urban centres. He is adamant that the Lal Masjid event in 2007 cost him and many PML-Q bigwigs in the 2008 elections when they were reduced to almost one-third of their numerical strength as compared to the year 2002 elections. But this is partially correct, though Lal Masjid’s inappropriate action propped up a feeling of hatred against the Musharraf regime then, the 2008 change was obvious with the return of two former premiers and heads of their parties – late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. And then the lawyers' movement had changed the whole political landscape. Sheikh Rashid and PML-Q didn’t matter as the whole façade under Musharraf was artificially created and had no roots in public. And then religious parties have never been a dominant factor in Pakistani politics in terms of votes and Parliament seats, though they have historically enjoyed eminence due to their rhetoric and street power. Look at the way Tahirul Qadri has been rejected time and again by the electorate despite all his pomp and show. Same goes for dwindling public support for Jamat-e-Islami having been trounced in big cities like Karachi and Lahore lately. With Sirajul Haq it has tried its bit, but lost both on the vote and intellectual front. JUI-F has pockets of support in KP, Balochistan and parts of Sindh. Jamiat Ahle Hadith allied with PML-N has a very small vote bank and limited footprint. Same goes for JUP having lost prominence after the demise of luminaries like Allama Shah Ahmed Noorani and Abdul Sattar Niazi. Karachi based Sunni Tahreek has never had any major electoral success till date. The recent effort by “hidden” powers to launch Milli Muslim League to dent PML-N in NA-120 failed miserably despite huge financial investments – no one knows where all these finances came from. The whole effort fizzled out badly as it was criticised locally and internationally too. In 2018 elections too, small religious parties will matter in individual constituencies, but won’t be able to swing voters in a massive way. But the “boys” don’t hesitate from political meddling as a matter of routine.

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