The Friday sitting of the National Assembly would perhaps be recorded as “the briefest” in Pakistan’s parliamentary history. Soon after its commencement at around 12:00, Ali Mohammad Khan, the minister of parliamentary affairs, requested deferment of the question hour. After getting the same request endorsed by the House, Asad Qaiser, the Speaker, gave the floor to Pervez Khattak.

The Defence Minister announced “presentation” of not one but three bills that sought amendments in laws, regulating procedures related to appointments and tenures of three Services’ Chiefs: Army, Air Force and the Navy.

The proposed amendments were not available to members, sitting in the House; they were also not distributed among parliamentary reporters. Yet, the House was adjourned to meet again on Saturday morning.

However Senate Chairman and National Assembly Speaker Friday night announced to change the schedule of the sessions of Senate and National Assembly from January 4 at 11.00 am to January 6 (Monday) at 4:00 pm.

Lest you forget, our parliament had not felt the need of introducing these laws on its own. Prime Minister Imran Khan had approved a three-year extension in the tenure of current COAS, way back in August 2018. No parliamentarian or the political party had objected to it, at least publicly. The extension was rather not considered “unusual”; in our recent history, another Army Chief, General Kayani, had also savored such extension in 2010.

Close to his retirement, however, the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Asif Saeed Khosa, surprised many of us by opting to hear a petition, as if on SOS-basis, filed against the current Army Chief’s extension.

The court proceedings on the said petition triggered a lot of excitement and anxiety in power corridors of Islamabad. At the end of it, though, the apex court passed the buck to parliament and directed it to clearly set the procedure of appointing Services’ Chiefs by furnishing new laws.

The Imran government unnecessarily delayed moving to the task. After the retirement of the former Chief Justice, it rather preferred to seek the “review” of the decision that had been passed by a three-member bench of the Supreme Court. The content and the language of the review petition sparked a new set of anxiety-laden speculations. Wagging tongues rather worked overtime to prepare us for a “massive showdown” between the Executive and the Judiciary, the kind we had endured already for many months in 2007.

The geo-political positioning of Pakistan these days could just not afford the flood of conspiratorial stories and projection of doomsday scenarios, relentlessly being weaved around the status of an otherwise formidable office, overseeing the matters of national security in hands on manner. The Imran government surely took long to discover that it had no option but to deliver, on lines set by the apex court.

Thanks to perennial drumming of anti-corruption rhetoric, the government felt shy of approaching the opposition to seek its cooperation for smooth delivery of the legislative cover that the Supreme Court had sought. It strongly felt that the opposition might play hard to get. Fearing this, it failed to fathom that both the PML-N and the PPP fully know their limits, when it comes to dealing with the dynamics of power equation in this country.

The Imran government also failed to appreciate that since losing the electoral battles in July 2018, the PML-N had increasingly been losing the will to bounce back in power games. It rather faced a deep existential dilemma.

Nawaz Sharif, its leader, was sent to jail for a long term along with his daughter. Even after getting out on bail, the daughter could not carry on with the defying march. Her father’s health-related issues also turned frighteningly complicated in prison. He had to be sent abroad for treatment.

In the absence of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, most of the PML-N leaders had to turn pragmatic and rediscover their limits. Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif and now the PML-N leader, instinctively fathomed the existential dilemma of his party. Therefore, with active support of the “pragmatic and experienced” types, crowding the PML-N ranks since its launch in the early 1990s, he is ever ready to lap at win-win looking “deals” to stay in power games.

Little wonder, the PML-N took no time to announce “unconditional support” for smooth passage of the legislation, the government wanted to introduce, after meeting with a ministerial delegation Wednesday. Khawaja Asif simply delivered what Shehbaz Sharif had directed in the given context.

On its own, the PPP would perhaps have extended the similar kind of support for the passage of the desired legislation. The PTI ministers had, however, approached Bilawal Bhutto Zardari only after pocketing the promise of unconditional support from the PML-N. He seriously felt “ditched” by the PML-N.

The PPP leader had been expecting that the PML-N and the PPP would jointly negotiate with the government, to furnish the legislation that the Supreme Court had enforced upon our parliament. Through the expected negotiations, however, he only wanted the government to concede more time for the passage of the desired legislation. By crafty employment of the collective weightage of the number-strong opposition, comprising multiple parties, he wanted to show it to the world as if our parliament took sufficient time and exercised due diligence to pass the desired legislation. It did not “rush to rubberstamp.”

Khawaja Asif, certainly as per clear instructions of Shehbaz Sharif, preferred the quick delivery and the PPP felt “cheated” about it. I have it from more than five reliable sources that during a “joint parliamentary sitting” of various opposition parties Wednesday evening, Khawaja Asif was rudely blunt while niggardly dismissing reservations that the PPP had expressed. He and Syed Naveed Qamar of the PPP also had an ugly shouting match.

Instead of focusing on the proposed legislation and evolving a strategy about how to go about it, both the PML-N and the PPP representatives kept accusing each other of “playing solo and cutting covert deals” with powers that be. In the days to come, both the major opposition parties are certainly set to drift apart further. Wonder what else the PTI wanted.

Things are even more complicated for the PML-N, though. Since his dismissal from the Prime Minister’s Office at the end of a long drawn out legal battle in the Supreme Court in 2017, Nawaz Sharif had been trying to build a narrative of “civil supremacy.”

An impressive number of youthful admirers embraced his narrative passionately and began promoting it, quite committedly, on social media. That crowd now feels extremely disappointed.

As if to assuage their hurt hearts, Nawaz Sharif has reportedly issued “fresh” directions to Khawaja Asif by writing a letter. But the content of the same has apparently not sought any resistance or rejection of the desired legislation, furnishing legal cover to significant appointments and their tenures.

Like Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the former Prime Minister also wants our parliamentarians to just take more time to pass the proposed bill to prevent the feel of “rubberstamping in haste”.