Published in the Express Tribune Blogs on the 7th of April, 2015
They questioned the legitimacy of Parliament. They objected to the transparency and fairness of general elections 2013 (GE 2013). They protested and resigned making their return conditional upon formation of an inquiry commission to probe into allegations of rigging in the GE 2013. And they returned to Parliament after promulgation of an Ordinance establishing that very commission. So what was all the fuss about?
On Monday, in Parliament’s joint session called to discuss the pertinent Saudi-Yemen issue and Pakistan’s role therein, Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf legislators returned to the National Assembly after seven months. Once again, despite all its vices, Pakistan People’s Party proved be the most – if not the only – democratic party, when the opposition leader welcomed PTI and its leader to the house. MQM, JUI-F and one very vocal minister from PMLN were not so welcoming.
Fazl ur Rehman has a hate-hate relationship with PTI and Imran Khan, owing to the latter’s tapping into his party’s vote bank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. His displeasure with PTI’s return to Parliament and consequent elimination of the opportunity to contest for, and win by elections on, seats vacated by PTI, was quite obvious.
MQM, also has a long standing enmity with PTI attributable to PTI’s, and especially Khan’s, occasional bold statements against Altaf Hussain and his party. Legislators from MQM raised the issue of pending resignations tendered by PTI members. It is surprising that MQM could not digest a retraction of resignations, considering how it has become a hobby for their beloved leader. They quoted Article 64 of the Constitution and conveniently overlooked National Assembly’s Rules of Procedure whereby the Speaker can refuse to accept a resignation if satisfied that it wasn’t tendered voluntarily. If a member or members are sitting before the Speaker, on their allocated seats, in the National Assembly, the Speaker need not ask such members if they stand by their resignations or not. If the resignations were not accepted when the members were consistently absent from the house, they cannot be accepted now when they are present.
The odd – not so surprising – outburst came from the Defense Minister. Odd because his party claimed to have worked really hard to bring PTI back to Parliament in the “larger interest of democracy”. Not so surprising because Asif’s words were pretty much in line with PMLN’s “democratic” trends. They struggled to bring PTI back so that their minister could reciprocate Khan’s verbal aggression? Was it a move to bring the enemy on your turf and then hit him where it hurts? I am sure this wasn’t the case, but Mr. Minister sure made it seem so.
Khwaja Asif questioned why they (PTI) were sitting in the same house that they tagged bogus and illegitimate. It is again not so surprising that a PMLN senior member has assumed that formation of a judicial commission implies Khan’s retraction of rigging allegations. If PTI has fought for a probe into rigging allegations, and that probe is now being conducted, why would they accept Parliament as legitimate before findings of a commission to that effect?
Khwaja Asif’s fiery speech, which was anything but parliamentary, has apparently been lauded on social media. It seems to have satisfied the appetite for vengeance that PMLN supporters sought on PTI for having verbally ridiculed them and their leadership for months. Sitting on treasury benches, and then to be a minister, calls for some responsibility. It is not like Khan’s onslaught has not been responded to by PMLN on various forums. But to choose to vent out your anger in Parliament, in a joint session with an agenda so important, was extremely immature and irresponsible. PTI, very appropriately, did not reciprocate.
Imran Khan obviously did not expect a warm reception with garlands. Until recently making his return to Parliament conditional upon formation of a judicial commission, he had on many occasions resolved never to sit in a fake and bogus Parliament. But the recently signed MOU and forfeiture of more than one demand therein, foretells PTI’s future stance. The MOU favors PMLN more than it does PTI. It may just be a face saving opportunity for Khan and his party. Having realized the futility of his protests, Khan might just have agreed to wait his turn. Political victory is not only evident in MOU clauses, but also in PMLN blatantly allowing its minister to hit PTI when its down. Imran Khan returned to Parliamant because he knows what fruits a toothless commission will bear, and because he does not want to stay out of the assemblies till the next general elections. And maybe, just maybe because he has been assured that steps will be taken towards electoral reforms, ensuring that the next elections will be free, fair and transparent.
The joint session was however more about petty political score settling than deciding the fate of future foreign policy. Monday’s session gave credence to the rumored assertion that decisions on foreign and defense policies are now being taken elsewhere while politicians are allowed to play in their sessions and meetings. As we saw, they did not take any decisions, they only played.