The strategic flexibility, inherited by a traditional politician from Multan, was in full display at the National Assembly on Monday.
Wild speculations have been rife since last Wednesday that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was no longer willing to live with what is being described as hyperactive judiciary. He presumably felt that the time had come to show it to the world that in a parliamentary democracy, an elected prime minister enjoys some discretionary powers as well.
Speculating commentators were not very sure about how the prime minister would convey a ‘tough message’, but it was taken almost for granted that howsoever ‘mild’, there would be a resolution that parliament might pass to assert its sovereignty.
The PML-N-led opposition was supposed to block the passage of the anticipated resolution. Besides, providing the appearances of total chaos about the present assembly, the anticipated resolution was also set to trigger the ‘final showdown between the judiciary and the prime minister’. At the end of the day, most of us proved embarrassingly wrong.
Immediately after the question-hour, Gilani asked for the the microphone to speak for 30-plus minutes. Not for once he strained his lungs, threw tantrums or resorted to theatrics. With a monotonously restrained tone, he kept recalling case after case where he submitted to the Supreme Court’s decision without much ado.
After an elaborate affirmation of the “respect I strongly maintain for the judiciary”, Gilani could not stop himself from expressing the accumulated bitterness against Nawaz-led opposition. Very subtle he remained, though, while comparing his conduct with the way the self-proclaimed ‘doer from Lahore’, Nawaz Sharif, had been behaving during his turns in the Prime Minister House.
Even some PML-N hawks found it difficult not to blush, when Gilani with a straight face wondered who was the SP in Faisalabad, who handcuffed two government servants on orders of Nawaz Sharif, a prime minister elected with a ‘heavy mandate’ in 1997. The then Supreme Court headed by Justice Sajjad Ali Shah took serious note of the said handcuffing and this eventually led to an ugly showdown between him and the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.
Many veterans in the press gallery instantly recalled that it was none other than Zafar Qureshi, now being projected in the media as the one and only investigator that the FIA has these days, who did not hesitate to oblige the imperial whims of the populist Nawaz Sharif.
Sarcastically, he also recalled that the same officer got promoted to a senior grade during the days of General Musharraf. His promotion provoked the then Chairman of Federal Services Commission, the late Gen Jamshed Gulzar Kayani –a stickler when it came to observing rules – was forced to tender his resignation. Although very obvious in hitting straight at his target, Gilani never named Zafar Qureshi. And that was the beauty of his bite.
The prime minister did not expend the accumulated ire on just Nawaz Sharif and Qureshi. The ‘hands on’ administrative management by Shahbaz Sharif was questioned as well. Talking to the press before commencement of the National Assembly sitting Monday, the PML-N hawks had asked bureaucrats to defy ‘the corruption-friendly government’ of Gilani. The prime minister laughed at what was clearly an attempt by the opposition to incite the civil servants to rebel against an elected executive and pointed to Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif’s compulsive habit of humiliating civil servants working under him. “Many are sent to Islamabad in ire, but I place them on important positions.
“You (the PML-N) will surely fail to incite the bureaucracy against my person and the government,” the prime minister declared with absolute confidence. He finished his deeply thought-over speech by telling the opposition in a blunt manner that “miracles have stopped happening on our political scene”.
“The PML-N should stop imagining that fuelling tensions between this government and the superior judiciary will create a space for fresh elections, eventually sending Nawaz Sharif to the Prime Minister House.”
“Play the role of an opposition by parliamentary rules,” he suggested with conviction.
The prime minister’s speech in the context of a media driven expectations for a showdown between his government and the Supreme Court, cunningly defused the hype.
For an average consumer of news bites, however, Gilani’s speech of Monday would not scuttle the perception that the recent round of tensions with the apex court happened as the Gilani government is keen to protect not one but two sons: one prime minister’s own and another of Chaudhry Pervez Elahi.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2011.