Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz legislators walked into the National Assembly in full strength and after holding a long strategy session at 6:30 pm Monday. We presumed that they would wait for the entry of Prime Minister, who was sitting in the Senate, for putting up a disruptive show. But the minute Dr Asim stood to answer the first question that was connected to his ministry, the opposition members started to pronounce with loud shouts that after Gilani’s conviction, he was a minister no more.
Being a novice to parliamentary battles, Asim kept standing without saying a word. While he looked helplessly baffled and clueless, some experienced PPP members rushed to his seat. He was told that after putting on headphones, he could stonewall the din around him and continue with answering questions. He put the headphones which triggered more spirited desk thumping and shouting slogans from opposition benches.
The cynical heart of mine was not too impressed with the PML-N’s performance, however. After all, for many months cutting across the party divide all opposition members had been blocking the National Assembly business with piercing slogans of ‘go-Musharraf-go’ in a house elected in 2002. Instead of quitting, Musharraf discreetly established communication channels with political Maulanas of the MMA and thanks to their collaboration eventually forced both houses of our parliament to validate the military takeover of October 1999 and his continuation as an ‘elected president in military uniform.’ Shouts and brawls during parliamentary sittings, in short, do not make or break a prime minister.
Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif had two clear days to think about the checkmate-looking moves. While appearing before media to announce his intent of extracting the resignation of Gilani, for example, he could at least have managed the showing of Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Aftab Sherpao standing on his right and left. That would have told the world that all non-government parties, represented in the National Assembly, were solidly standing by him. He did commit approaching Imran Khan and Jamaat-e-Islami after many months of playing solo, without realizing that the two would now play hard to get before appearing as if joining a movement the initiative for which had already been stolen by Nawaz Sharif.
The short, two-paragraph, order that the Supreme Court delivered Thursday sounds ambiguous to non-legal minds. The use of ‘mitigation’ rather forces many to imagine as if the apex court was not too keen to seek Gilani’s disqualification after convicting him. Mian Sahib should have waited for the detailed judgment, but he preferred jumping the gun for obvious fear of Imran Khan’s growing graph.
Talking of the detailed judgment, let me also reveal that from a source that yours truly can trust blindly I have gathered that Gilani had actively been thinking of resigning, if the final and comprehensive decision clearly linked conviction with his disqualification. Most ministers and PPP legal eagles do not endorse the idea for sure, but Gilani is known for springing surprises. As the Speaker of the National Assembly of 1993-6, he had often been doing that. His firm no to approaches by Tariq Aziz for joining the PML-Q in 2004 also fell in the same category.
My sources claimed that Gilani seriously felt that his resignation after the detailed judgment would take away the building heat from Nawaz Sharif’s cause. Our attention would immediately switch to the question whether the PPP would succeed in getting his replacement elected by the National Assembly without much ado. In case, the detailed judgment remains vague or non-committal on the question of Gilani’s disqualification after conviction, the government intended to advance presentation of the next budget. So far, it had planned to present the same on May 15. In parliamentary democracies, passage of the budget is considered equal to the vote of confidence for the sitting prime minister.
Two trusted aides of Nawaz Sharif told me that from heart of his hearts their leader wants that Gilani government should present the next budget. He does not want to build momentum for Gilani’s resignation before passage of the next budget. Some people around him suspect that if Gilani is forced to resign before the unveiling of the budget by his government, Shahid Javed Burki type ‘technocrats’ may do the same and there is no guarantee that after preparing the next budget, ‘honest technocrats’ are asked to go home after holding elections. The tenure of their government can be stretched and stretched on various legitimate-looking reasons. Whatever the truth, Nawaz Sharif surely seems caught in Catch-22.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2012.