Barring the indifferent and thick-skinned types, almost each member of this National Assembly had found out by mid-November 2011 that gas shortages would turn acute in months of extreme winter. Yet, both the government and the opposition failed to evolve any strategy to cope with it. With the start of December, the gas shortages triggered street riots. The opposition went berserk expressing solidarity with the enraged public and kept delivering bombastic speeches in every assembly sitting.
Dr Asim, the petroleum minister, came but once to the assembly for telling-all. Instead of making assuaging commitments, he did everything to perpetuate the sense of doom and gloom. No wonder, the government offices in Islamabad looked deserted on first Monday of the New Year. With a wink from the Punjab government and appropriate guidance from the street-hardened legislators of the PML-N, public transport owners did not let a vehicle move in Rawalpindi. On TV screens, things looked far more violent in Peshawar as well. They surely forced the prime minister to preside a crisis-management meeting and he entered the house with a depressed face. He could not offer beyond a fire-fighting package of half-hearted initiatives and last-minute compromises.
Whenever in the government, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had always been heading the energy-related ministries since late 1987. As an effective manager, he must have thought of some workable plans for addressing the issue; but he remains reluctant to reveal them to ordinary mortals. He and his party tend to approach the Supreme Court, whenever the government does not appear addressing any matter of broad public interest in a befitting manner. Isn’t it time that the PML-N went to the same court and assist the people-friendly bench in executing a viable plan to deal with gas shortages with diligent input of Chaudhry Nisar?
My visits to various ministerial chambers, however, made me believe that our representatives were far more concerned to deliver on another count: restoring the Nato supplies to Afghanistan. Pakistan had blocked those supplies after aerial attacks on our check posts that killed 24 soldiers of ours “deliberately”. The Nato and the US kept expressing regrets over the incident since then, but no apologies and offers of compensating measures. By signing a punitive law against Pakistan on the eve of New Year, President Obama rather conveyed a preference for dealing with Pakistan through sticks and not carrots.
Yet, the ministers and some ruling party members I talked to Monday evening did not seem upset. One very well-informed type from amongst them rather told me that a recently held meeting in Doha promised a win-win kind resolution of the Pak-US issues. He sounded too confident while predicting that Nato supplies to Afghanistan might be restored “maximum by Jan 20 after successful negotiations in Doha”. He refused to answer questions related to why and how, but politely suggested that Parliamentary Committee on National Security would start working overtime from Tuesday to furnish a package of “face saving measures” by Pakistan.
A joint sitting of parliament is expected to own the said package after venting the patriotic ire by usual suspects and that should be the end of the story. He sounded credible, when heard in the context of hard news which proved that despite suspension of Nato supplies to Afghanistan, the US carriers continued to bring more load to Karachi port.
Also important in the same context is the haste that Ms Sherry Rehman seems indulging these days. After her nomination as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, no one expected her to leave before the end of this month. A peculiar group of ‘seasoned diplomats’ were rather found claiming in whispers that Zardari-Gilani government “had been conveyed (you know by who) to nominate someone else and that may take time.” The ambassador-designate has now been given the green signal to leave by her bosses and throughout this week she is all set to attend nonstop lunches and dinners arranged to say goodbye to her.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2012.