Shah Mahmood Qureshi deserved to be treated like an iconic example, if you seriously want to comprehend the art of political posturing signifying nothing. His handling of a potentially explosive issue during the national assembly sitting of Tuesdayhas brilliantly demonstrated his talent in the said context. 

Ms Maryam Nawaz, the daughter and apparent political heir of Nawaz Sharif, had been summoned to present herself to Lahore office of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on August 11, 2020. After reaching there, she was expected to answer a list of questions, prepared regarding the purchase of a large tract of land by her.

A relatively impressivecrowd of the PML-N workers decided to join her travel to the NAB office. The local police didn’t feel comfortable about it and eventually opted to overreact. Shells of teargas were to be lobbed as well, when the batons didn’t appear working. That provoked stone throwing by the enraged crowd. It also conveyed the message that diehard loyalists of Nawaz Sharif were now willing to take to the streets, although PEMRA-regulated 24/7 channels had underplayed the event.

But a definite set of overenthusiastic ‘spokespersons’ of the ruling party, turned hyperactive on regular and social media. They zealously spun the story that Ms. Maryam Nawaz had “rented a crowd to stage the show of defiance and street battles” in Lahore. “With the clear intent of provoking the police”, the crowd accompanying her was also alleged to have brought in vehicles, “loaded with stones.”

The story, they kept spinning, relentlessly, failed to take off. Primarily, for the fact that Ms Maryam Nawaz quickly loaded a picture on her twitter account, while sitting in her car. Its bulletproof windscreen had visible cracks on it, while in the background the scattered crowd of police personnel in uniform was seen throwing stones at it. With timely posting of the said picture Ms. Maryam Nawaz succeeded to project the allegation that the main objective behind her summoning to NAB’s office was not to “interrogate but to harm her by any mean.”


It was but obvious that at the outset of Tuesday-sitting, the PML-N MNAs would ignite bedlam in the house by passionately referring to the events in Lahore. Things, however, started and went on with yawn-inducing routine for a while. After around 35 minutes, Khawaja Asif, the PML-N leader, asked for the floor.


Contrary to his reputation of a firebrand, Asif preferred to tell his side of the story with visible self-control. Instead of “threatening,” his tone and tenor continued to express concern. No PTI hawk was willing to confront him by insisting that Ms. Maryam Nawaz should have gone to the NAB’s office without a crowd. Many politicians are often summoned by the same outfit to answer questions related to allegations of corruption. They come and leave without much ado. Ms. Maryam Nawaz, on the other hand, “deliberately created a scene.”


Shah Mehmud Qureshi rather volunteered to manage calm. He started his speech with visibly “defensive” note by referring to “the traditions of the East,” which demand respect for the women. He was almost explicit to guardedly endorse the perception that perhaps the Lahore Police had overreacted. But he kept insisting that the PTI could hardly extract any political advantage from their conduct, which he also described as “idiotic.”


Continuing with conciliatory posturing, he then switched to seeking time from the PML-N. “We were busy at the cabinet meeting, when the things were happening in Lahore,” he told the house. He surely needs time, therefore, to collect authentic details of the same event. After his syrupy speech, the PML-N was left with no justification to trigger chaos by delivering aggressive speeches.


A large group of the PML-N members of the national assembly doesn’t feel too inspired by Ms. Maryam Nawaz, anyway. After spending many years in politics since the mid-1980s, most of them rather consider her “too hawkish.” They strongly feel that the PML-N has always associated itself with ‘pragmatic’ politics. It always appreciated its ‘limits’ vis-à-vis the quasi-democratic realities of Pakistan. They prefer to identify with Shahbaz Sharif, the PML-N president, for the same reasons and seek guidance from him.


Under his command, the PML-N legislators have certainly been behaving ‘responsibly,’ for at least more than a year. They also believe that the said behavior eventually helped Nawaz Sharif to proceed abroad to address his health issues, in spite of spending time in jail after being sentenced for a crime of alleged corruption.


Since her father’s departure, Ms. Maryam Nawaz had also turned quiet. She used to behave like a compulsive user of social media to promote her political message. After her father’s flight to London, however, she also appeared to have deactivated her twitter account. That certainly helped the majority of PML-N MNAs to conclude that both Nawaz Sharif and his daughter wholeheartedly approved the political strategy, articulated and promoted by Shahbaz Sharif.


By summoning Maryam Nawaz, after a long gap, NAB had definitely confused them. She surely deepened their dilemma by deciding to appear before NAB, along with a crowd of her supporters. The resultant scenes in Lahore surely re-affirmed her crowd pulling potential. It must have pleased a significant portion of the PML-N vote bank as well, especially in Central Punjab. But most the PML-N legislators didn’t look confident to clearly find out whether Nawaz Sharif had finally decided reverting to his “original” line, after getting frustrated with Shehbaz Sharif’s ‘pragmatism.’ We also have to wait and see.


Meanwhile, the PTI government still needs at least four more laws to be smoothly passed by the national assembly. It seriously believes that the passage of these laws would help Pakistan in getting out of FATF’s grey list. The combined strength of the opposition cannot block the passage of these laws from the national assembly; the PTI still commands the majority there, although razor-thin and vulnerable.


Taking advantage of their massive number in the Senate, however, the opposition parties would still be able to “reject” these laws. The government would thus prefer that like the previous FATF-related bills, the next series of laws in the same respect, should also appear as if “passed by consensus.”


To ensure the same, the Speaker had been holding late night meetings at his home since Monday. Tuesday remained reserved for private initiatives in legislation. We have to wait for another sitting of the national assembly on Wednesday to find out the fate of the desired ‘consensus.’


The happenings, triggered by Ms. Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s surfacing in Lahore on Tuesday would surely look ‘insignificant,’ if the PML-N legislators once again looked being “on board” for the smooth passage of the rest of FATF-related bills.