Our constitution clearly states that the National Assembly should hold at least 120 sittings within a parliamentary year. The government has apparently summoned another of its sessions commencing from Monday, only to meet the said obligation. No wonder, without a substantive agenda on its desks, the half deserted house furnished the looks of an etherised patient of T S Eliot’s imagination.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the opposition leader in the assembly, did appear for a while, but most of his vocal comrades had gone to attend the PML-N meeting called to brainstorm on points that the party should flaunt to attract votes in the next election. Although switched to electioneering mode, the Sharifs are yet not willing to press for early polls. The recent by-elections on two national and six provincial assembly seats in Punjab had rather reinforced their claim that incumbency was not working against their party. Their hold on the most populated province of Pakistan, on the other hand, has been projecting the PML-N as iconic symbol of ‘good governance.’
Taking full advantage of the extra cash that the Chief Minister of Punjab has in his official kitty thanks to the 18th amendment and the NFC award, Shahbaz Sharif is madly pursuing the timely completion of six mega projects in major cities like Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan. Through emissaries like Khawaja Asif he had already conveyed it to the federal government that he would want the Punjab Assembly to complete its five-year term. His obsession for completing the term helps the PPP to comfortably stay put in the centre until March 2013. But the ruling coalition here is not sure about the strategy that at least ensures sustaining their current numbers in the assemblies during the next elections.
The strategic planning of Asif Ali Zardari primarily relied upon the release of Coalition Support Fund, another IMF bailout/injection and auction of G-3 licences to get funds for throwing at potential and available PPP supporters and he is still not getting firm nods and vibes regarding all of them. Thanks to recent meetings that the finance minister had in Washington, a substantive amount of the Coalition Support Fund was released no doubt, but the amount is not enough to enable the government for electioneering.
A federal minister told me in his chambers that after his re-election President Obama seemed too keen to announce a clear-cut schedule for massive withdrawal of the US troops during his inaugural speech on Jan 21, 2013. He expects Pakistan to help him in doing the same by furnishing firm commitments on Afghanistan. The government of elected civilians feels handicapped on this count. It has rather ‘outsourced’ the strategic dealings with the US to Dr Hafeez Sheikh who had already helped restoration of Nato supplies to Afghanistan via Pakistani routes by holding negotiations with Thoman Nides above and beyond the foreign minister and her ‘career diplomats’.
My source claimed that while meeting with Hafeez Sheikh, some American officials had categorically told him that they would not even be able to start convincing the US Congress to let them furnish substantive economic assistance to Pakistan, unless Dr Shakeel Afridi was released. The said doctor savours the status of a ‘hero’ for some powerful Americans for collecting information that confirmed the presence of Osama Bin Laden in a well-secured house in Abbotabad. His possible release will certainly incite the street hardened and media savvy ‘GHAIRAT Brigade’ of Pakistan and can prove doubly lethal for the PPP, when it goes in the field to ask for votes in April-May 2013.
One PML-Q leader had rather forewarned the President that Afridi’s release could cause the same kind of damage that his party had endured in election-2008 for being perceived as complicit in operation that General Musharraf had ordered for taking control of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad.
While leaving the parliament house Monday evening I met another federal minister in the lobby. In a very conspiratorial and teasing tone, he tried to find out from me “the latest on Rehman Malik.” I got the hint, but failed to find anyone reliable for telling a credible and authentic story about the interior minister.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2012.
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