Gossip about defence minister’s job up for grabs

Published: May 7, 2014

The directly elected National Assembly of Pakistan is supposed to reflect the heat and dust of our everyday life. Do not blame me, therefore, while reading this column, if I often seem to reflect being in the wrong place while sitting in the press gallery on Tuesday.

There hardly was any reference, even a subtle one, to an “explosive issue” related to “highly sensitive matters of national security” that we continue to see discussed on our TV screens for the past three weeks.

The proceedings went on smoothly and almost appeared like a meeting of some elitist NGO, “sensitizing people” on multiple issues related to poverty alleviation etc. Even after trying hard, I simply failed to find a cogent justification for this indifference of ‘our representatives’ to an issue that seemed to have split the nation into warring factions of a passion play.

The attendance on ruling benches was visibly thin, but the numbers on the opposite side of the aisle did not appear impressive either. Most journalists, sitting in the press lounge looked miserably glum, however, and hyperactive reporters from amongst them were eagerly waiting for the ‘end game.’

The movement that the PTI had announced to launch against “massive rigging” in the election one year ago on May 11 onwards was a topic that each journalist seemed hooked to. The PTI legislators, even in private and informal meetings, do not want to explain their objectives and strategy for achieving their motives. Most of them are genuinely not sure whether the May 11 picket in Islamabad will be a one-day affair or it may unleash a full throttle movement energizing and crowding main avenues and streets all across the country. All of them strongly react, however, if someone suggests that their dharna of May 11 has been “winked” by quarters known for making and breaking various governments in this country.

The PML-N mainstream is worried from heart of their hearts, although with hopes that Nawaz Sharif would somehow pull through it. Some are definitely upset for their leader has yet not summoned an extensive meeting of his parliamentary party for thoroughly discussing the passionate building of doom and gloom scenarios in media.

Not many ministers of Nawaz Sharif, forget the parliamentary party in general, relish real access to real Nawaz Sharif. The poker-faced prime minister of Pakistan has always kept his cards too close to his chest. Although after returning to prime minister’s office for the third time in June 2013, he has turned into a hardened recluse. Extensive meetings he continues to preside, but instead of speaking his mind there, he keeps throwing pointed questions and seldom responds to what is stated.

After many attempts, I could finally manage to persuade a minister to answer some of my questions. He did concede that things were not so hunky-dory for the government these days. It definitely is under pressure from multiple sources. Yet the pressure, he strongly believed, is primarily aimed at extracting “more space from the PM on many counts.” Nawaz Sharif, he kept insisting, can still pull himself out of dire straits after opting to sit for serious talks with clear intent of give and take.

Most PPP veterans, who have been returning to the national assembly since 1990, believe otherwise. At least one of them claimed with utter confidence that Khawaja Asif was still retaining the defence ministry thanks to a ‘random statement’ issued by Syed Khurshid Shah. In the end, this PPP legislator stressed, “Asif has to leave.” Gen (retd) Qadir Baloch appears the ‘obvious’ replacement, but my sources claim that Raja Zafarul Haq is the person we should watch out as the “dark horse” for the ministry of defence, although Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan felt uncomfortable with “his clout and access to the quarters” that the Payal Rajput from Chakri considered his “domain.” Conspiracy theories and gossip, in short, are available in abundance in the lobbies and chambers of the parliament house. But, the floor of the National Assembly itself remains insipid and dull.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2014.

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