Through the crafty but not very engaging speeches of Raja Pervez Ashraf and Khawaja Asif in the National Assembly Friday, both the PPP and the PML-N did try to transmit a “message”.

Both the mainstream parties wanted to ensure us that the opposition is not dead and done with. Even if not able to block the bulldozing of a plethora of laws by the PTI government in record setting two hours Thursday evening, the sizeable crowd sitting on the opposition benches could still force the Speaker to let them express the accumulated anger and bitterness. One is yet sure how to take the said message.

The fact remains that the ruling party continues to hold and please its base by sticking to its narrative. Since October 2011, Imran Khan had been passionately telling his followers that all politicians of this country were “corrupt,” unless they joined the PTI.

During their turns in power since 2008, Imran Khan went on claiming, both the PPP and the PML-N miserably failed to furnish good governance. Instead of a compassionate addressing of the issues, burning hearts of the wretched of our part of the earth, they ruthlessly “looted and plundered” the national resources. After amassing millions through dubious means, they kept inventing and executing schemes to “launder” the ill-gotten wealth and transfer it abroad for buying properties in hot spots of the world.

The Imran government keeps insisting that it inherited a “bankrupt economy” after taking over in August 2018. After averting the imminent looking default, it was now busy to stabilize things on the economic front. Doing so, it can also not forget and forgive the “loot and plunder,” relentlessly committed in the previous decade.

The government seriously wants us to believe that the opposition starts “crying,” when an “autonomous body,” the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), legally established to get “the corrupt,” springs into action.

Instead of proving their “innocence” while in NAB’s custody, many leading lights of the opposition parties cunningly try to blame the government for indulging in “vendetta.” Their “slavish followers,” project the “diligent efforts of NAB,” as an “insidious conspiracy”to malign and undermine “democracy,” which already is too fragile in this country.

The PTI narrative may sound hollow, if you view it dispassionately. In a frighteningly polarized Pakistan of these days, however, it continues to sustain and please the ruling party’s base. Both the mainstream opposition parties are yet not able to articulate and sell a counter-narrative with vigor and passionate consistency.

The day after bulldozing a plethora of laws, the government did try to act “kind,” though. The Speaker, Asad Qaiser, had signed orders to ensure the presence of Asif Ali Zardari, Syed Khurshid Shah and Khawaja Saad Rafique in house proceedings. His “generosity” was not extended to Shahid Khaqan Abbassi and Rana Sanaullah of the PML-N, however, who are also spending time in jails.

The selective display of compassion by the Speaker was clearly designed to show us that Asif Ali Zardari and Syed Khurshid Shah were “hale and hearty.” The PPP had been building and promoting a “fake story” of their fast deteriorating health.

Transporting Khurshid Shah from a jail of Sindh to Islamabad surely required time. But the former President and the PPP leader, Asif Ali Zardari, is under “intense treatment” in a government-run hospital of Islamabad, while remaining in NAB’s custody. His coming to the National Assembly Friday would have helped the government to show, without much ado, that the former President continues to feel good about life. He walks with confidence and continues to laugh at his opponents with a broad grin coupled with taunting tone.

I have it from reliable sources that by saying thanks-but-no, Zardari refused to walk into the trap that Asad Qaiser had cunningly prepared for him with his “merciful heart.”

Raja Pervez Ashraf and Khawaja Asif rather questioned his “neutral credentials;” for, the Speaker had gleefully accepted to become a member of the “ministerial team” that Prime Minister Imran Khan had formed to negotiate with Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who had been staying put in Islamabad with thousands of his followers since last Friday.

Pervez Khattak, the federal minister of defence, heads the said committee. He stood to defend the Speaker and claimed that it was on his suggestion that Qaiser’s name had been included in the negotiating team. The opposition benches were not willing to pay any heed to his wisdom. Their nonstop heckling eventually provoked Khattak to act contemptuous and dismissive regarding their “corrupt reputation.” In sheer anger, he also tried to send a tough message to Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

The youthful son of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Asad, who also heads the JUI-F in the National Assembly, could not take his threatening tone. He stood to check the defence minister. The Speaker preferred to ignore him. But Asad kept standing akimbo and shouting a defying message to Pervez Khattak.

Ali Amin Gandapur, a diehard loyalist of Imran Khan, had snatched a National Assembly seat of Dera Ismail Khan from Maulana Fazlur Rehman during the electoral contest of July 2018. He keeps daring the JUI-F leader to forget his dharna of Islamabad and go for another contest against him for the seat of their hometown.

 

Asad opted to call his bluff Friday. He repeatedly dared Gandapur to put his resignation from the National Assembly “here and now,” while adding that he would do the same if the Minister for Kashmir Affairs obliged. Both of them should then go for a fresh contest on the same seat of National Assembly, Gandapur had been holding since July 2018. Gandapur preferred to act deaf to his challenge.

Khawaja Asif delivered a long speech in the culminating moments of the Friday sitting. It focused upon counting the acts of commission and omission that the PTI had presumably been practising since taking over in August 2018. After questioning the “neutrality” of the Speaker, he also took on the conduct of Qasim Suri, the Deputy Speaker, who had presided over the record-setting proceedings of the National Assembly Thursday evening.

After clearly expressing the intent of moving a no-confidence motion against the Deputy Speaker, Asif also forewarned the government that the opposition might approach the superior courts to challenge the validity of the laws that the PTI government had bulldozed Thursday evening.

The cynic in me would not take these threats seriously. But during the flow of his speech Friday, Asif also claimed with utter confidence that Pakistan might be heading for an early election. The treasury benches laughed at his claim, loudly and unanimously. With a serious face, though, Asif just declared: “I know what you don’t.”

Asif had been holding the portfolios of defence and later the foreign affairs, during the last PML-N government. He had been returning to the National Assembly since 1993 and is considered too close to both Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother, Shehbaz.

For the past six weeks, nonstop whispers in Islamabad have been claiming, “secret negotiations” between the so-called “deal group” of the PML-N with “powers that be” for the purpose of managing “some relief” for Nawaz Sharif and his daughter. Asif is perceived as a “key member” of the so-called “deal group” of the PML-N.

The heavy hints, he had dropped Friday, excited most of my colleagues in the press gallery. His remarks were rather treated as “the breaking news” by some news networks. I have doubts, though.

“Deception”, often plays the decisive role in power games. And, “the game,” so far, seems favouring Imran Khan and his narrative, you may like it or not.