All politics in the end, they say, is “local.” And during Tuesday’s sitting of the Senate we witnessed a brazen affirmation of this maxim. But you need some background information to appreciate the real cause of it. 

 Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Yousuf Raza Gilani represent two powerful families of Multan. After taking over Punjab around two centuries ago, the British Raj eventually decided to cultivate a class of collaborators to consolidate its control. Families associated with widely respected Sufis of the yore and their shrines relished more favours than the rest in the given context. They were allotted huge tracts of fertile land in the name of taking care of the shrines and poor ‘devotees.’

Their scions were sent to elitist educational institutions like Aitchison College of Lahore to learn English and the skill of sustaining absolute control on disciples, niggardly called “RAEEYAT (subjects). Then the Raj also opted to co-opt the same collaborators in the form of governance invented to furnish the illusion of sharing power with ‘locals’.

The Qureshi family had enjoyed a formidable edge, when the Raj was indulging in patronage-binge. They were recognised as legitimate descendants of an iconic Sufi, Bahauddin, buried in Multan in an awe-inspiring shrine. Almost each Sultan and the King, preceding the English, had also been pampering them.

Yet the dynamics of partially elected governments under strict watch of the colonial power gradually began to hit the Qureshi family’s monopoly over local politics. Gilanis smartly took advantage of it and eventually established themselves as the archrival alternatives to Qureshis.

The rivalry between the two families continued in post-colonial years. Both families kept viciously vying to prove more loyal and useful to successive governments of Pakistan, both the civil and the military. Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Yousuf Raza Gilani have been carrying on the same war for political control of Multan since the 1980s.

Disregarding the old rivalry, both of them also switched their loyalty to Ms Benazir Bhutto and her party, the PPP, in the 1990s. Then came the election of 2008 and at the end of it, Asif Ali Zardari preferred to nominate Gilani to the Prime Minister’s Office. Qureshi could yet not forget and forgive the ditching of those days.

To settle the old scores with Gilani, he finally joined Imran Khan’s PTI too close to the election of 2013. Gilani could then not contest for a public office for being disqualified by the Supreme Court. He put his sons in the field. But one of them was kidnapped by a group of religious extremists during the last day of the election campaign. Gilanis had to wait for many years for his return. Meanwhile, Shah Mahmood Qureshi savored a huge and almost open space to expand and consolidate his base in Multan while imagining that Gilanis were now “history” for him.  

Yet after many years of drifting in wilderness, Gilani could finally manage his return to power games, with a bang last year. He contested for a Senate seat reserved for Islamabad. The National Assembly voted for it and Gilani pulled a shocking surprise by defeating Dr Hafiz Sheikh, a nominee of the ruling party. Gilani could not manage the winning streak, though, by grabbing the office of the Chairman Senate as well, but succeeded to end up as the opposition leader in the upper house of Parliament, indeed a high profile position.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi never felt comfortable with Yousuf Raza Gilani’s dramatic return to power politics and had anxiously been waiting for his weak and vulnerable moment. And after many months of heart burning, he strongly felt that by not being present during the Senate sitting of Friday, Gilani had finally put himself on a descending slope.

Qureshi was justified to imagine the same; for the majority of parliamentary reporters were unanimously projecting Gilani as if exclusively responsible for letting the government bulldoze a law, conceding absolute autonomy to the State Bank of Pakistan. Gilani failed to articulate a convincing sounding excuse for his absence. The plea he took rather forced many to suspect as if his absence was deliberate, perhaps ‘managed’ by forces that be as well.

By delivering a heartbroken speech during the Senate sitting of Monday, Gilani had smartly tried to push back the avalanche of taunts and barbs launched about his absence from Friday’s sitting of the Senate. At least the majority of opposition senators, including some sitting on the PML-N benches, turned sympathetic after listening to his speech. Gilani also expressed the desire of resigning as the opposition leader, but he was persuaded to disregard what had happened last Friday and move on. Things in the Senate since then appeared returning to normal. But the venomous ego of Shah Mahmood Qureshi could simply not swallow the apparent rehabilitation of Gilani.

To subvert the same, he reached the Senate Tuesday, precisely at a time when the house was too close to finishing its business for the day. He asked the floor to deliver a “policy statement.” Sadiq Sanjrani, the Chairman Senate, couldn’t say no because any federal minister has the right to take the floor for issuing a ‘policy statement.’

Sitting in the press gallery, most parliamentary reporters presumed that being the foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi might focus his “policy statement” on demolishing the feeling that by conceding absolute autonomy to the State Bank of Pakistan, the Imran government had in fact empowered the International Monetary Fund to tweak with our “sovereignty.” They surely proved too naïve in the end.

Qureshi, for sure, started the “policy speech” with points, attempting to assert that Pakistan’s Parliament remains “supreme to all.” Even after the passage of autonomy-granting law, the State Bank would still be answerable to Parliament. No outsider had dictated the autonomy-granting law; the Imran government conceived the same itself to ensure “financial discipline” in the country.

But soon he switched to deliriously settling old scores with Yousuf Raza Gilani. He viciously laughed and mocked at his absence from Friday’s sitting and with absolute contempt kept insisting that Gilani’s offer for resigning from the position of the opposition leader in the Senate was “merely a drama to fool us.”

Qureshi did not confine himself to discuss what had happened in the Senate last Friday. He went on and on to claim that Gilani “bought votes” for reaching the Senate. To drum the said allegation, he went on to recall that some videos remain viral on social media where one of Gilani’s sons is seen and heard attempting to buy votes and the Election Commission was still probing the matter.

Sadiq Sanjrani hardly made any genuine attempt to check the malicious euphoria of Qureshi. He never dared to tell him that a minister couldn’t use ‘the policy statement’ to point spiteful scores against an old political rival.

Propriety also demanded that after the hateful speech of Qureshi, the Chairman Senate should have given the floor to Gilani for speaking on the “point of personal explanation.” Instead of doing the same, he adjourned the house until Friday morning, the moment Qureshi finished his speech by calling Gilani “a sold out and the compromised” leader of the opposition in the Senate.

For another time, Sadiq Sanjrani had again projected himself, almost audaciously, as the ultimate facilitator of the government, whenever it decides to humiliate the opposition sitting in the house he continues to preside with so much pomp and fury.