‘With a heavy heart’

Shenanigans that the eleven-party government keeps displaying since replacing Imran Khan in April this year have stopped being laughable. They have now begun to deepen the feeling that Pakistan was rather being run by a team of recklessly incompetent persons.

You certainly need a very thick skin for not fathoming that our country needs to vigorously address a daunting number of challenges on multiple fronts. Far more alarming are the economic issues. Our Foreign Currency Reserves continue to deplete, ruthlessly pushing the value of Pak Rupee to the bottom. In spite of increasing the prices of electricity, gas and petroleum products to backbreaking limits, economic and fiscal managers of this government are yet not able to satisfy the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

 In spite of being unable to create any hope in this season of absolute doom and gloom, the eleven-party government, led by Shehbaz Sharif, still wants to act as if ruling in ‘normal’ times. It also wants the world to take us as a ‘functional democracy,’ where a ‘duly elected parliament’ continues to work ‘overtime’ to find solutions to accumulated problems.

To act normal and brave, the government had also summoned another National Assembly session Wednesday. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif delivered a bombastic speech during its maiden sitting. But the tale he told with too much pomp and fury failed to induce any hope; he rather kept remorsefully suggesting that powerful quarters of the permanent institutions of our state were not helping him to focus on his job.

In the said context, he also was not too subtle in telegraphing the messages that the superior courts were crippling his powers to deliver. With the clear intent of demonstrating some “push back,” thundering speeches were then delivered from the treasury benches. They vowed to ‘reclaim’ the territory, the elected parliament had relentlessly been conceding to extra-parliamentary institutions, since at least 2014. But exactly a day after, Thursday, the ruling alliance miserably failed to show the minimum number present in the house, required for establishing quorum; the sitting had to be adjourned for the lack of it!

While promising to reclaim the ‘lost territory’ during Wednesday’s sitting, speaker after speaker from the ruling benches also looked astonishingly oblivious to the reality that 125 members of the largest party in the National Assembly, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, had posted collective resignations around four months ago. They were “duly approved” by the previous deputy speaker, Qasim Suri. But after his removal, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, the new Speaker, announced to reconsider them.

Almost four months have passed since then. Yet the Speaker appeared sleeping over the collective resignations. But late Thursday evening, he suddenly announced to approve the resignation of 11 PTI members.

I have been covering parliamentary proceedings since 1985. But my accumulated experience of more than three decades simply failed to understand why the resignations of only eleven had been accepted out of a huge number, 125. The Speaker and his Secretariat has yet not provided any rational, even irrational, justification for a visibly selective and arbitrary decision.

That incited some parliamentary reporters to employ their own wisdom and instantly invent a conspiracy theory. They suspected that employing his rustic cunning, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, indeed a hardened player of political games, had ‘deliberately’ selected some particular members who had won their seats with narrow margins during the election of 2018. Perhaps he believed that expected bye-elections on vacant seats would help to bring non-PTI nominees to the House.

Another conspiracy theory claimed that the surprise-looking act of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was rather a ‘preventive strike.’ Seemingly, he had cunningly reacted to a flood of rumours fast spreading in Islamabad for the past two days. The rumours claim that after “re-establishing the channels of communications” with ultimate setters of the political scene in this country, the PTI was actively considering the idea of returning to the House. Since most of its resignations had not been accepted, it could return with the intent of moving a no-confidence motion against the current government.

The government led by Shehbaz Sharif survives with an extremely vulnerable majority of two votes in the National Assembly. Mutehidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) and a faction of Pakistan Muslim League, once controlled by Chaudhry Shujat Hussain, PML (Q), continue to act like ‘dissatisfied allies.’ They also have a long history of shifting loyalties after winks and nods coming from “right quarters.”

The reality of visible numbers in the National Assembly clearly indicates that with no subtle or covert help from the same quarters, the PTI can easily eject Shehbaz Sharif from the Prime Minister’s Office while returning to the house with a motion of no confidence. The sudden acceptance of 11 resignations by Raja Pervaiz Ashraf is thus perceived as sabotaging the intended game. Personally, I don’t believe any of the abovementioned stories.

The government led by Shehbaz Sharif is fast losing the space to act and govern anyway. The most populous province of Pakistan, Punjab, had already gone to the PTI-supported Chaudhry Parvez Elahi. That had reduced the Prime Minister to the status of a glorified ‘mayor of Islamabad.’ Under his command, the party he leads –Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) - has also been incessantly alienating even its diehard supporters after being associated with relentless wave of inflation during the past four months. He certainly feels increasingly besieged and overwhelmed and might end up quitting after being checkmated.

Since taking over the Prime Minister’s Office, he and his finance minister were relentlessly projecting themselves as if desperately trying to protect Pakistan from “imminent-looking default.” They kept defending the “tough but unpopular” decisions, massively increasing the prices of everyday utilities like the electricity, gas and petroleum products. We were also assured, nonstop, that the measures taken by them, “with a heavy heart,” had finally softened the IMF. But the most popular story on social media on Friday was reporting that to persuade the US to use its influence on the IMF, the Chief of the Army Staff had to call the US Deputy Secretary of the State. In short, Shehbaz Sharif and his team had failed to deliver even on this front.

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