In parliament’s court

Published: March 30, 2012

The writer is a senior journalist who works for Dawn News

It always had the ingredients of a farce. It looked perilously close to becoming a tragedy. However, the swiftness with which the report of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) has become irrelevant in parliament, has surprised even the hardest cynics. The media debate on the subject, despite its many loose ends and a tendency towards extreme superficiality, has kept the focus sharp and steady on this urgent matter before parliament. But the public representatives have lost little sleep over the document. Indeed, in the last few days, they have made it look like a useless stack of papers that neither deserves their time or attention for any significant duration.

Cold statistics tell the story of this parliamentary mistreatment of the PCNS’s supposed hard labour, which the government has been trying to portray as the starting point of a new era in Pakistan’s foreign relations. According to the Free and Fair Election Network, which monitors the procedure and substance of the debate in both houses of parliament and creates daily performance sheets at the end of each day, the joint sitting has been disjointed in its discussion and disinterested in the subject.

The day foreign policy review proposals were presented, the session started 45 minutes late, and lasted for an-hour-and-two minutes. On the scale of enthusiasm to thoroughly analyse the report, the opening session fared poorly: of the 430 odd members, just 172 were there at the start and 185 when it ended. The speaker was absent. The prime minister was there for only 36 minutes. Leader of the opposition did slightly better: he stuck around in the half-empty house for 57 minutes.

Following adjournment and a long weekend, the joint session resumed on March 26. And what a woeful resumption it was! Most of the members strolled in an-hour-and-fifty minutes late. Just five members spoke on the PCNS’ report for a duration of 84 minutes. A barrage of points of order — a dozen to be precise — ate into almost half of a three-hour long session. The prime minister was absent. The ANP and the MQM walked out of the house over Karachi’s law and order situation and also for the late start to the session. A total of 182 legislators were there in the beginning with only 46 lasting till the end.

The following day saw no improvement in the lacklustre show. It began two hours and twenty minutes behind schedule. Twenty-six points of order consumed 81 per cent of the time. The 168 legislators at the start, dwindled to 67 upon closing and adjournment. The prime minister was missing in action, while the leader of the opposition lost interest after 29 minutes and left. On the third day of the week, of the 246 legislators present only four dwelled on the report for 47 minutes.

These are truthful statistics but do not capture the fact that even the sparse debate on the report has been pathetic. Rhetoric flowed like mud and the gaping holes in the report’s content have been left completely unaddressed. The short attention to the report became shorter on account of the killings in Karachi and the loadshedding riots in Punjab.

We all know that foreign and defence matters are too serious to remain in the custody of the generals, but so far, the parliamentarians’ conduct shows that they have not the slightest clue about national priorities. Immersed in the politics of derailing each other, they are millions of miles away from the point where the challenges of foreign policy would be of real value to them. Most of them do not read, and those who do read, do so about their constituencies only. And as for those without constituencies, the more detached group, they are too busy reading the lips of their leaders to throw even a glance at how fast the globe is spinning for Pakistan.

They may learn in the end, but that does not take care of the present-day task of giving Pakistan a brand new foreign policy, resetting relations with the US and devising a booklet of answers to the questions regarding the future of our ties with India, Afghanistan, Iran, China and the rest of the world. So far all we have is the prime minister, the foreign minister and the foreign secretary churning out stale ideas through statements and press releases in the desperate attempt to pretend like they know what they are talking about. The parliament is just not ready to come up with a viable foreign policy blueprint. It may change in the coming days —I dearly hope it does — but for now its record is disturbingly poor.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2012.

 

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Awais Ch
    Mar 30, 2012 - 12:44AM

    Parliamentarians sitting in the parliament is no more than wastage of resources like electricity which is already short in Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 30, 2012 - 12:45AM

    These parties are responisible for all the blood shed in katachi and in pakistan and then they
    walked out of assemblies too pakistan is non wellfare country based on family fuedals and
    naudaulatya (new rich) Recommend

  • Balochzada
    Mar 30, 2012 - 12:49AM

    At least I am not surprised.

    Recommend

  • Shahid Jamil
    Mar 30, 2012 - 12:59AM

    Did we expect any better from a horde, most of whom are “functional” illiterates with feudal mindsets? These are the same people who did away with the graduate degree requirements as one of their top priorities. Expecting them to read something serious, provided they can read, is really asking for too much.

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  • Falcon
    Mar 30, 2012 - 1:14AM

    Had parliamentarians been shrewd enough, they could have used this as an opportunity to show their competency and chip away from the power of establishment that is usually blamed for foreign policy making. Alas, they missed another chance. You mentioned about constituencies. I think that is still too much. I would be surprised if they are able to think beyond their own families.

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  • Harry Stone
    Mar 30, 2012 - 1:21AM

    Must not be very important or so it would appear. It does take the focus off what ever else happens to be taking place in PAK today and next week.

    Recommend

  • khoya pakistani
    Mar 30, 2012 - 1:28AM

    Talat sahib, isn’t it now the task of people in the media, such as yourself, to call out these inept politicians one by one, expose the effect of their narrow-mindedness to the people who elect them. I agree with your broader point, but the only check and balance for a myopic polity in a democratic system is the wrath of the people. Isn’t this wrath fueled by a responsible free press? So do your job, before the generals decide its their time to screw up again.

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Mar 30, 2012 - 2:13AM

    The problem is simply that Gilani is trying to use parliament to do things which it is not SUPPOSED TO DO. It is the job of the executive (PM his cabinet and bureaucracy in parliamentrary democracies) to design policies and implement policies as well as laws of the land. It is the task of the legislature (parliamennt in parliamenary democracies) to pass laws. It is the task of judiciary to interpret laws to decide cases that come up in front of them.

    Foreign policy should thus be designed by the foreign ministry bureacrats and Hina Rabbani and approved by PM and his cabinet (which includes Khar) . They CAN consult the opposition if they want to but are not required to. The reason for this mess is that the PM does not WANT to take ownership for the policy which he should as the head pf the executive branch and put the onus on the parliament which is not its function.

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  • Ahmad
    Mar 30, 2012 - 8:57AM

    Good article. WE should disqualify all these politician and sitting MNAs and give a clear message to all those who wanted to sit in the Parliament that we mean business if you want to be sit there you need to give time and better future to this country people otherwise dictatorship is much better then these lunatics.

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  • imran
    Mar 30, 2012 - 10:40AM

    @Ahmad, The only way forward is to allow democracy work in this country. we can replace these politician when we will be a part of process. But dictatorship is throw out every one from system of governance including politicians and what they replace with mad and ruddy army officers. And army Generals are the most sacred cows of this county. How much corrupt they are we don’t know because there is no accountability of this institutions. I am personal witness of corruption of many army officers whenever i worked closely with them. I Know this PCNS drama is staged by establishment but I could see that this will change the narrative of our Parliament.Remember democracy is the only solution. Look all developed countries have the system of democracy. Tell me only one county that is prosperous and influential but it has dictatorship.

    Recommend

  • Adnan Khan
    Mar 30, 2012 - 6:23PM

    Excellent article by a perceptive and brilliant man.There are of course, thousands like him, but they will never reach the corridors of power in Pakistan, because there we only send our worst. They can’t string two thoughts together and they have been entrusted with the responsibility of running a country of 180 million. Comedy, will undoubtedly follow suit.
    .
    I specially liked this para from his article:
    .
    but so far, the parliamentarians’ conduct shows that they have not the slightest clue about national priorities. Immersed in the politics of derailing each other, they are millions of miles away from the point where the challenges of foreign policy would be of real value to them. Most of them do not read, and those who do read, do so about their constituencies only. And as for those without constituencies, the more detached group, they are too busy reading the lips of their leaders to throw even a glance at how fast the globe is spinning for Pakistan.
    .
    Yes, millions of miles away. From merit, responsibility, sincerity, honesty, integrity, et all. Pakistan has much more talented folks, wasting away in ignominy. We don’t deserve these to chalk our destiny. Vote for change. Vote PTI.Recommend

  • Maryam
    Mar 30, 2012 - 7:39PM

    Even a bad or no policy from the parliament will be million miles better then the one pursued by the Generals & Establishment since 1947. You need to learn the lesson as we the people of Pakistan have learned it. Bravo to the parliament even if it is defunct. They will still do better then the Generals. Recommend

  • Zahir
    Mar 31, 2012 - 4:01AM

    Firstly, the parliament may be a group of below average persons but they represent the people of the country. Who do generals represent? Secondly, even in the UK parliament, not all members are present in all sessions. In our context, it may be better that only those with knowledge and interest attend. Others would only downgrade the debate with silly comments. Even within the establishment, not everybody is taken into confidence in decision making. Let us be clear headed about national objectives. For 60 years policies dictated by the establishment have brought us to the brink of disaster. Alternate options cannot get any worse than our present state!

    Recommend

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