The National Assembly of Pakistan did not take more than 12 minutes to approve a consequential law to regulate the appointments of Services’ Chiefs and facilitate extensions in their tenure, if the need be, Tuesday morning. Most parliamentary reporters had not been expecting such a speedy delivery on this count.

As if to stoke their excitement, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the PPP leader, directed his party legislators to reach the National Assembly secretariat Monday evening. Three amendments in the government proposed law were formally submitted there.

These amendments were essentially not aimed at nullifying the 3-year extension that Prime Minister Imran Khan had already announced for the current Army Chief, way back on August 19, 2018. The idea was to set some new rules for the future.

Prime Minister’s “discretion” for appointing a Chief of the Army, Air Force or the Navy was not questioned through these amendments. His or her authority to extend their tenure was not challenged either.

A proposed amendment, however, desired that before extending the tenure of any Service’s Chief, the Prime Minister should appear before a specially constituted parliamentary committee, overseeing the national security affairs, to simply explain what motivated him or her to grant the extension. Yet, the prime minister’s decision, in this context, did not need the approval from the proposed committee.

Another amendment proposed that instead of “reappointing” any Service Chief, the prime minister should only “extend” the tenure, for whatever period, if the need be.

The third amendment wanted to delete that portion of the government-proposed law, which barred any court’s intervention when it comes to consider matters related to the appointments of Services’ Chiefs and extending their tenure.

Nothing “radical” was visibly suggested by the amendments that the PPP wanted to inject in the government proposed law. The PTI-led government still felt panicky about them. Its hyperactive ministers seriously apprehended that the attempt to inject last minute amendments would certainly delay, if not subvert, their intent of furnishing a quick legal cover to highly “sensitive matter” of the appointments of Services’ Chief and the procedure prescribed for extending their tenure. The PML-N leaders also felt too uncomfortable about them.

Some PML-N leaders seriously suspected that by attempting to insert the “innocent-looking” amendments in the government-proposed law, the PPP was, in effect, trying to play “dirty.” It simply wanted to show it to the world that being an “ideological party, presumably adhering to the principle of Civilian Supremacy,” the PPP did try to “empower parliament” at a critical moment of our political history.

Apparently, the PML-N had been singularly monopolizing the cause of “civilian supremacy,” since April 2016. Nawaz Sharif was projected as if the iconic “martyr” of the said cause. The PML-N had also been claiming that the election of July 2018 was “stolen” from it, by forces that be, for firmly sticking to the same cause.

With hasty-looking decision of promising “unconditional support” to the government-proposed law, furnishing legal cover to the appointments of Services’ Chiefs and facilitating extensions in their tenure, the PML-N seemed abandoning the said “cause.”

Doing this, its leadership, primarily the Sharif family, did not take most of their party legislators on board. Not one of them even bothered to explain and defend the said decision to formidable swathes of the so-called vote bank that the PML-N had been cultivating and expanding since the early 1990s.

The PML-N leaders strongly felt that “by acting smart too late in the day,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was trying to look “defying and principled” to their vote bank. A delegation, led by the former National Assembly speaker, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, was sent to his residence. Pervez Khattak and Farogh Naseem, the PTI ministers, also reached there. In spite of sitting with him, until too late Monday night, all of them reportedly failed to appease Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

I have it from extremely reliable sources that after failing to persuade the youthful PPP leader, Asif Ali Zardari had to be contacted on SOS basis. Only after extracting the promise of quick delivery from him, the PTI felt comfortable. Yet, the PPP leaders, present in Islamabad, were approached again Tuesday morning to formally seek cooperation, ensuring smooth sailings in house proceedings.

At the outset of the Tuesday sitting, Pervez Khattak, the defence minister, took the floor to express “gratitude” to the PPP MNAs. Syed Naveed Qamar, the PPP MNA, stood to confirm that keeping in view the gravity of the regional situation, turning frighteningly complicated after the killing of an Iranian Commander by the US drones in Iraq, the PPP had decided not to press for consideration of amendments, suggested in the government-proposed law. That surely paved the way for speedy approval of the government-proposed Bill.

A group of legislators, associated with Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, was still not willing to approve the proposed law. Along with a Jamaat-e-Islami MNA, they walked out of the house in protest, though. Only two PTM MNAs were left behind to oppose the government proposed law. They kept staying put in the house to vote against the government-proposed bill. Their shouts and throwing of tantrums failed to delay the quick approval by the National Assembly, almost unanimously.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari did not come to the house. His absence was interpreted as if expressing distance or indifference to the government-proposed law.

Most parliamentary reporters also kept excitedly waiting for Shahid Khakan Abbasi. They were told by sources they trusted that the former Prime Minister might come to the house and would take the floor to express “reservations” regarding the government-proposed bill. That would surely have created a huge embarrassment for his party, the PML-N. In the end, however, he also preferred to stay away from the house.

Prime Minister Imran Khan did attend the Tuesday sitting. After the quick passage of a highly significant bill from an otherwise deeply polarized house, he did not feel motivated to take the floor and express gratitude to the opposition parties for showing the rare and the least expected “unanimity”.

His conduct clearly conveyed the message that he was still not feeling too grateful to the PML-N and the PPP leaders. He continues to perceive most of them as “looters and plunderers,” deserving no pampering by any means.