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August 14, 2018

At least four conspicuous, skipping handshakes


August 14, 2018

ISLAMABAD: At least four handshakes on the floor of the National Assembly attracted the attention of all and sundry as these were hardly likely, bearing in mind the acute political acrimony that touched its zenith during the election campaign.

But on the contrary, some handshakes, though required, still did not take place apparently because of the hardened positions, and even the opportunity provided by the inaugural session of the newly elected Lower House of Parliament was not availed.

The most conspicuous handshake was between Prime Minister-in-waiting Imran Khan and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif. It was unexpected considering the lingering poisonous clash between them. The political fight between the Sharifs and Imran Khan, spanning five years, has been unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. But for a moment, they showed geniality.

Another attention-grabbing handshake was between former president Asif Ali Zardari and Imran Khan. Nobody anticipated that they will ever shake hands in view of the hostility created by the severe attacks and counter-attacks between them for a long time. Zardari did not forget to offer his usual grin during the handshake while Imran Khan treated the chance encounter as a business as usual development.

Yet another equally striking handshake was between Imran Khan and Bilawal. The National Assembly’s photographer requested them for a snapshot to which they readily agreed. The toxic exchanges between them are still fresh in many minds.

Imran Khan-Sardar Ayaz Sadiq (outgoing speaker, who chaired the proceedings) handshake was no less out of the ordinary due to a protracted bitter battle between them relating to the election to a Lahore seat between them in the 2013 parliamentary polls. It was because of this dispute that Ayaz Sadiq was once ousted but he returned in the by-election in which he had faced Aleem Khan.

Another handshake between Ayaz Sadiq and Sheikh Rashid was also exceptional given the harangue by the latter against the former for a long time. Ayaz Sadiq was consistently battered too much by the member from Rawalpindi and always complained that he was not given sufficient time to voice his opinion by the speaker.

As in our politics in which vicious squabbling transforms into a sort of enmity, even passing handshakes are attached much importance. Some may read too much in them while others may not, arguing that the basic courtesy demands such gestures when even politicians, lethally opposing each other, happen to be close.

In contrast, there was no handshake, and perhaps no occasion arose on the floor although an effort might have been made by any side to present a semblance of amicability, between Shahbaz Sharif and Zardari or Bilawal.

Although senior leaders of the PML-N and PPP have held more than one meeting after the July 25 elections to work together in the opposition to some extent, there have been no direct deliberations between Shahbaz Sharif and Zardari or Bilawal. Apparently, both sides have consciously avoided sitting under one roof.

Nawaz Sharif’s policy towards Zardari has always been different from that of Shahbaz Sharif. The former prime minister is on record having stated in the past that he has asked his brother not to be much aggressive towards the PPP supremo.

Shahbaz Sharif has attended the opposition parties’ parleys but Zardari and Bilawal haven’t so far. However, all of them stayed from the opposition parties’ protest in front of the offices of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) last week, protesting manipulation in the polls.

While there were welcome double handshakes during the maiden session of the new National Assembly, there were no triple embraces which are customary in our culture to show affinity to each other.

The handshakes don’t mean that those who were involved in them have buried the hatchet for good. It was a transitory moment that some can’t avoid to avail. The handshakes don’t imply that the politicians skirting them will remain away from each other in the political arena in future. Politics has a host of examples of strange political bedfellows, who keep changing with the change of time.

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