‘Miftah Bachaoo flight’

Even the most productive creators of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ will fail to imagine a parliament where the opposition does not exist. Yet in Pakistan these days, we have a ‘national assembly’ trying hard to act ‘normal’ and generate business-as-usual vibes.
The farcical charade is being played in spite of the fact that more than 120 members from a house of 342 had collectively posted resignations. Exactly a month ago, they did this to prevent the removal of Imran Khan from the Prime Minister’s Office through a duly tabled vote of no-confidence. Qasim Suri, the former Deputy Speaker, defiantly refused to entertain the said motion. He rather “rejected” the same while dubbing it as “Foreign Inspired (read American) Conspiracy.” The Supreme Court didn’t approve his interpretation. Calling it “unconstitutional” the apex court eventually forced the headcount on the same. Consequently, Shehbaz Sharif had replaced Imran Khan.

Around 22 members from the former ruling party kept themselves aloof from the process of voting against Imran Khan; they didn’t vote to prop Shehbaz Sharif to the Prime Minister’s Office either. But they had also not submitted their resignations and wanted to pretend as if still “representing” Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan while sitting in the national assembly. Noor Alam Khan, one of their main leaders, now demands to be recognised as the Leader of the Opposition. But Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf needs time to make up his mind.

This irritated Dr Fehmida Mirza. For not less than two decades she had remained a diehard loyalist of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party. After the election of 2008, Asif Ali Zardari rewarded her loyalty. She rather made “history” for being the first woman Speaker of the National Assembly.

Dr. Zulfikar Mirza, her husband, had been a bosom buddy of AAZ for many decades. But then they began developing serious differences in late 2011 and finally turned bitter foes. To reach the national assembly in 2018, Dr. Mirza sought the support of the Grand Democratic Alliance, a small group of PPP-hating ‘influential’ types from Sindh. Imran Khan made her a federal minister as well.

With her experience and vigorous oratory, she is now struggling hard to project herself as the most lethal critic of the present government. With the same objective in mind, she delivered a thundering speech Tuesday evening to wail over the frightening scarcity of water in her province.

The ruling alliance had its own priorities, however, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq of Pakistan Muslim League, another former Speaker, took the floor to demand that the national assembly should discuss the conduct (unbecoming) of President Arif Alvi.
Presumably, we have a “written constitution,” prescribing the rules of governance in Pakistan. Such sort of a Constitution hardly leaves any ambiguities; even if you find some, only the apex court could remove the confusion.

Being a slavish loyalist of Imran Khan, Arif Alvi has consistently been refusing to acknowledge that his office is primarily “symbolic” in our parliamentary democracy. A Prime Minister is the “Chief Executive” here and the President must act as per his or her advice. Alvi insists on applying his “own mind”, though, and in the process mostly wants to behave like a monarchial President.

His stubborn defiance continues to create many embarrassments for the federal government. As if they were not enough, he also kept protecting the PTI nominated Governor of Punjab, Umer Sarfraz Cheema, who also preferred to act like a “Subedar (provincial head) appointed by emperors of the yore. Thanks to subversive strokes by the duo of Alvi and Cheema, Punjab, the most populous province of Pakistan, still remains without a really effective and functional government.

Sardar Ayaz Sadiq anxiously wanted the national assembly to censor “unconstitutional conduct” of Arif Alvi. The Speaker was equally willing to approve the move. This annoyed Noor Alam Khan, the aspirant opposition leader. He reminded the Speaker that Tuesdays were called “Private Members’ Day.” The government can’t enforce the business of its liking on this day.

Such fake attempts to furnish appearances of a ‘watchful and dynamic opposition’ in the current House made me laugh. I left the press gallery because the joke was being carried too far. Meanwhile, Ghaus Bux Meher, another GDA member, pointed out the lack of quorum and the house had to be adjourned until Thursday noon.

In parliamentary corridors and the ministerial chambers, anxiously discussed were the “real reasons” forcing Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to “suddenly” take a flight to London. His elder brother and the ultimate decider for Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has been staying put there for around three years. Apparently, he doesn’t feel tempted to rush back to the country even after his brother’s reaching the Prime Minister’s Office.

While in self-enforced exile, Nawaz Sharif had remained firmly reluctant to approve the idea of removing Prime Minister Imran Khan through the vote of no confidence. Not for the love of Imran Khan, but with a visibly sadistic intent, he wanted him to complete the five-year term in the Prime Minister’s Office. Asif Ali Zardari and Shehbaz Sharif had to spend many hours of Zoom calls to convince him to eventually approve the same idea.

But after the removal of Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif wants his brother to pave the way for earliest possible elections. He strongly feels that while stretching its stay in the government, the PML-N would quickly dwindle its vote bank. The party would rather be held exclusively responsible for the accumulated doom and gloom on our economic front. This will also brighten the chances for the return of Imran Khan to the Prime Minister’s Office, perhaps with 2/3rd majority, who certainly had recharged his base by vigorously spinning and promoting so many stories to ignite hate and rage among his supporters.

But Shehbaz Sharif feels too confident of his managerial skills. He strongly believes that if Pakistan were able to re-engage the IMF, his government would manage substantial economic support from some friendly countries. But to re-engage the IMF, this government instantly needs to concede a massive increase in the rates of petrol and diesel. The shirtless millions already feel overwhelmed by ceaseless inflation. The massive increase in the price of petroleum products would literally break their backs and they might take to the streets in utter rage.

Yet the finance managers of this government strongly feel that continuing with “irrational and unsustainable subsidies,” Imran Khan had deliberately announced to make things unviable for the government replacing his, would push Pakistan to unmanageable bankruptcy. The kind Sri Lanka is desperately coping with these days. To protect “the future,” they want to swallow the bitter pill, here and now, and bravely face the political blowback of it. Shehbaz Sharif is willing to take the risk and so is the financial team, headed by Miftah Ismail.

But none other than Ishaq Dar, the former Finance Minister and the most trusted and closest person to Nawaz Sharif, has daily been granting interviews to various TV channels of Pakistan while living in London. During these interviews, Ishaq Dar feverishly insists that Pakistan must not “slavishly submit to IMF dictates.” He wants to negotiate an entirely different and fresh package with the IMF; also wants the current government to prepare itself to face the earliest possible elections, not later than October this year.

Some “insiders” of Shehbaz Sharif’s camp, also claim that Dar Sahib had also been telling the Prime Minister that if he was not able to manage things economic and fiscal via Miftah Ismail, he is too willing to land in Islamabad and deliver as the Finance Minister. No wonder, privately talking to me a federal minister jokingly described Shehbaz Sharif’s dash to London as “Miftah Bachaoo (Save Miftah) flight.”

‘Miftah Bachaoo flight’