Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour is indeed a hardened politician. For many months, however, he has been finding himself trapped in a tight corner for being blamed exclusively for the bankruptcy and perennial crisis of Pakistan Railways. Many TV anchors had even forced his party leader, Asfandyar Wali, to apologetically concede that the ANP-nominated minister of railways should at least be asked to defend his conduct if not resign. He surely was anxiously waiting for an opportunity to bounce back. By formally putting a motion for the creation of new provinces, the MQM unwittingly provided the space Bilour has been looking for desperately.
At the outset of the Tuesday sitting, he stood on a point of order to aggressively wonder as to how a political party (the MQM) had any right to “demand the division of my province without having a single seat in its assembly.” His thundering provoked the MQM to retaliate with equal vigour and many members from other parties started shouting opinions on the same issue. The pleas of order-order from the chair fell on deaf ears and to prevent a certain-looking ruckus the house was adjourned for 20 minutes.
Parliamentary leaders of various parties kept sitting in the Speaker’s chamber for more than 40 minutes to reach consensus for an orderly debate on the issue. It is a different matter that when the house resumed its proceedings, Bilour found no chance to flaunt the obsessive love for the soil by a Pukhtun. The show was exclusively stolen by another son of the “Seraiki Wasaib,” Yousaf Raza Gilani.
With or without agreeing to the position, the Prime Minister forcefully expressed his position on Seraiki province. Most journalists sitting in the press gallery found him increasingly adopting a stance that politicians maintain during viciously fought election battles. He has been sustaining the posture of a polite and pleasing friends-to-all personality so far, but the Gilani we heard on Tuesday was found deliberately drawing the lines.
With instinctive cunning of a seasoned politician, he brilliantly avoided taking sides with either of the two parties represented in his coalition government, the ANP and the MQM. Instead of speaking for or against the creation of Hazara province, he enforced a paradigm shift by focusing on the demand of a separate province for Seraiki speakers.
Sardar Mehtab Abbassi, the deputy leader of the opposition, had preceded his speech. This PML-N veteran from Hazara was a high-profile member of the parliamentary committee that vetted the constitution before suggesting the 18th amendment. The said amendment pleased the nationalist Pushtuns by giving a distinct name to their province, but offended a horde in Hindko-speaking constituency of Mehtab Abbassi. Eventually, it also triggered a violent move for Hazara province. Sardar Abbassi has been feeling lost to wilderness since then. Yet the speech he delivered in the National Assembly Tuesday loyally toed the line that Lahore-centric Sharifs keep promoting in the name of ‘national integrity.’ Creation of new provinces, Abbassi kept suggesting with pretensions of a statesman, was a sensitive matter. It deserves cool and delicate handling and not the explosive speeches that may “sow the seeds of disintegration.”
Prime Minister Gilani was almost vindictive and vicious while refuting this position. He justified by proudly recalling that areas the British colonialists had united and ruled as India remained split in Hind and Sindh for thousands of years. Pakistan is virtually the continuation of what was once called Sindh and Multan had remained its capital for centuries. He also recalled that his father and grandfather were prominently active in the movement for Pakistan. A Prime Minister from amongst their successors must not be suspected as if inciting and fanning ideas that might lead to disintegration of the country. Pakistan Peoples Party is also committed to strengthening the federation of Pakistan and to ensure the same, always struggled to address grievances of units and areas feeling marginalised or being exploited by a strong centre or “Takht Lahore.”
He concluded his forceful speech by putting Nawaz Sharif on the mat while taking on a promise he had made in Karachi the other day. Addressing a crowd of his loyalists, the former prime minister from Lahore unashamedly expressed a clear preference for establishing military courts to punish persons perceived as troublemakers in Karachi. “What kind of a politician is this, who instead of finding political solutions to accumulated problems wants the military to handle them through coercive means?” he wondered in sheer cynicism. That delighted the MQM benches, who endorsed his position by spirited desk thumping. Members sitting on the PML-N benches surely looked alienated and marginalised in this National Assembly, where cutting across the party divide the majority of legislators kept endorsing the prime minister with repeated desk thumping.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2012.
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