While writing this column I am overwhelmed with the fear that by the time it is read on Friday morning, developments and the context reported here may sound ridiculously irrelevant. The National Assembly proceedings started in a business-as-usual manner. Most members, who had posted questions on various issues, were not present in the house to grill ministers for providing half-truths. The Prime Minister and opposition leader were also not visible.
Then a vocal PPP member, Nadim Afzal Chann, stood on a point of order and recalled threats that a hyperactive journalist, Hamid Mir, had been receiving nonstop. Apparently, he provoked the threatening calls for doing a talk show related to Sardar Attaullah Mengal’s bitter remarks regarding the mass scale alienation that prevailed in Balochistan these days.
Javed Hashmi took the mic to support him and stressed with a defeatist mind that so far both the government and public failed to name and punish the culprits who had killed journalists or kidnapped them for brute torturing. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan walked into the house meanwhile. He also stood to express concern and solidarity with frightened members of the journalist community. He concluded by asserting that a parliamentary committee should probe the matter and find out the sources of coercive call making within 72 hours of its formation.
Doing so, he also revealed that he too had been receiving a spate of threatening calls. He requested the Punjab government to locate the source and it could only discover that phone numbers, obnoxiously threatening calls were coming from, had been allotted to ‘agencies’. He didn’t name any ‘agency’, but in passing did suggest that some outfits under the command and control of the interior minister might also have been stalking and threatening vocal media persons and opposition politicians.
An apparently relaxed Prime Minister had walked in while Nisar was speaking. He took the mic, but to express regret over a different matter. Some days ago, the National Assembly was wrongly told that a hefty amount was spent on the treatment of Javed Hashmi, when he fell seriously ill last year. The figures were totally wrong and Gilani tendered an apology over it. The gracious act did not calm the opposition leader. He rather stood again to recall that the government had told the Supreme Court in writing that it remained clueless, when it comes to ‘operational details’ of things done by the army or the ISI. “What kind of a government is this,” he wondered provocatively.
That forced the prime minister to again take the mic and in a very cool and calculated tone confessed before a ‘sovereign house,’ that some institutions of our state were historically addicted to act like ‘a state within a state.’ He is not willing to live with this conduct. Enough is enough. Already, he has completed around 45 months in his office and that make him the ‘longest serving prime minister of Pakistan.’ Even Zulfikar Ali Bhutto could not go beyond 43 months.
Cutting across the party divide, members sitting in the house welcomed his statement with loud desk thumping, but journalists sitting in the gallery were baffled. Everyone preferred to rush out and frenetically dial numbers to find out ‘what next.’ Before writing this column, I also tried my best. So far, I can only report that Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar was hurriedly putting on his jacket, when I entered his chambers at around 1 pm. The president had summoned him.
In these columns, I have been consistently reporting that Asif Ali Zardari was adamant to deliver a tell-all speech, either before a joint parliamentary sitting or while addressing the PPP loyalists, expected to gather in huge numbers at Naudero on Dec 27. A set of loyal but pragmatic ministers apprehended that the speech he planned to deliver could turn into his ‘swan song’ in the end. Zardari may or may not get the chance to deliver the expected speech. Gilani had surely taken the lead in drawing the lines between the civilian government and autonomy-savouring oligarchs through his speech
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2011.