In some sense, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue and Planning and Development is the most important committee of parliament. This is where the money is counted — or should be counted and accounted for. When Fauzia Wahab was elected its chair, many were surprised. I was not and here is why. When parliament was restored in General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s time, an impressive number of young and educated women made it to the National Assembly. For one, the quota of seats for women had been increased to 18 per cent. For another, the graduation condition forced many heavyweight men to send wives or daughters to parliament.
One fine morning in my P Block office, fine, because there were no scheduled meetings, I heard a knock at the door and then, with a gentle opening of the door, saw a smart women smiling. Before I could invite her in, she said, standing in the half-opened door: “Aap sirf sarkari logon ke chief economist ho ya oppsition se milne ki bhi himmat hai?” Only the day before, the young Hina Rabbani Khar, an MNA at the time, had been sent to me by the finance minister for a discussion on the state of the economy. And, Dr Doniya Aziz, another ruling party MNA, would also visit with questions on budgetary and social sector issues. Interestingly, no gentlemen from parliament ever came to me for briefings on economic matters.
I could guess that here was an opposition MNA at my door, who had got wind of my meetings with ruling party MNAs. I asked her in. She announced herself as Fauzia Wahab, an MNA from the PPP. Without further ado, she started shooting questions, which I found very interesting. It was a long meeting. She said she wanted to specialise in economic and financial affairs. In the coming days, she would barge in whenever parliament had an economic issue on its agenda. Meetings before and after the budgets on questions about the annoyingly large number of budget documents were especially taxing.
This question and answer relationship continued after she was elected to the present National Assembly. I had now retired from the government and was, therefore, more free. There was a team under Naveed Qamar tasked by the PPP to chart its economic course and she was a member. After the election, this team invited a group of people to advise on the economic measures that could possibly be taken in the first 100 days. The team members were hoping to occupy key economic positions. This, sadly, never happens in this land of the pure. An economic team is invariably flown in from you know where. She was an MNA, like any other, for a long time. I once joked about her becoming a minister. She burst into her typical loud laughter and said: “Hamari aisi kismet kahan”. The disappointment was obvious. But an element of desperation was also visible. Again, jokingly, I told her that she couldn’t just expect it to come to her and that she had to do what those in positions were doing — which was shouting in support of the leadership from the housetop. Which is what, I am afraid, she did. She was never the unrelenting defender of the faith that she became known for in various talk shows. There were rewards and regrets. Perhaps, this Hamlet-like confusion was her undoing. Or, was it that she took my joke too seriously? One will never know.
May her soul rest in peace!
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2012.