Many heavyweights from both sides of the house delivered engaging speeches in the national assembly Thursday.  The PTI representatives kept drumming the narrative that their government inherited an almost bankrupt economy. The previous governments of “looters and plunderers” were responsible for it.

Since taking over in August 2018, the Imran government had been diligently struggling to inch forward on the road to course correction. The well-entrenched “mafias” of rent seekers were desperately trying to block its march to good governance. They would fail to frustrate a strong-willed Imran Khan, however, He has no personal business to protect or a group of crony capitalists to take care off. In the end his noble intention and dedication will deliver.

Speakers from the opposition benches, on the contrary, mocked the said narrative. Mostly focusing on a multitude of here and now issues, they often sounded too aggressive to promote the story that the current government was nothing but a bunch of hopelessly incompetent persons.

Instead of devoting its energy to address highly complex issues, the government remains busy in bullying the opposition and critical voices by “inventing false cases of corruption.” Khawaja Asif of the PML-N felt sick and tired of it. During his speech, he rather volunteered to take all opposition leaders to a “police station named by the government” for courting arrest. Provided, “you assure us that after sending everyone from the opposition in jail,” the people of Pakistan would feel at peace.

Most speakers from the PTI benches proudly kept stressing that the Imran government took the daring step of confronting the “sugar mafia.” Doing this, it did not care that some influential “dons” of this mafia were also prominent in the ruling party. Their boasts provoked the opposition to tauntingly recall that Jehangir Tareen, projected as the ultimate “don” of the Sugar Mafia, had already gone to London.

As usual, Abdul Qadir Patel of the PPP also delivered another witty speech. After a long time he took on Chairman NAB by sadistically referring to a juicy story, the details of which one would avoid to provide for a family newspaper.

The wit and vigor, displayed by speakers from the opposition benches, often sounded like undesired point scoring in the gloomy times of a pandemic. The speech, delivered by Ayesha Ghaus Pasha, a female member of the PML-N, certainly sounded relevant and weighty in the given context.

Being a serious student of Economics, she was fully justified to lament that hardly a member of the national assembly had strained his or her imagination to quantify the possible consequences of COVID-19 to our economic scene. She claimed that not less than 3 million persons would lose their jobs in the days to come and around ten million households were bound to find themselves below the poverty line. She did appreciate the government’s attempt to provide a reasonable sum of cash to millions of left behinds. But she had serious reservations, when it came to “stimulus,” the government was promising to sustain and kick-start various key sectors of our economy. The State Bank of Pakistan remained the main target of her ire.

 

She claimed that only 8 per cent of loans, granted by the commercial banks, had so far been deferred. A huge majority of the small and medium scale enterprises could also not avail the support, promised through the announcement of refinancing schemes. She strongly suspected a handful of industrialists, considered “favorite friends” of the Imran government could grab most of the amount, to be released in the name of “stimulus.”

 

After watching the press interaction of Dr. Hafiz Sheikh, the powerful advisor on Finance, after the release of Economic Survey Thursday one felt more motivated to reconsider the questions put by Ms. Pasha through her speech in the national assembly.

 

During the three sittings of the national assembly, hardly a speaker from any side of the House ever cared to even remotely hint at happenings in the Supreme Court of Pakistan for the past few days. Some ominous sounding remarks were passed by some honorable members of the bench, hearing a set of petitions filed against a “reference”, which the PTI government had passed on to Supreme Judicial Council regarding the conduct of a very senior judge of the apex court. A peculiar group of conspiracy theorists of Islamabad are anxiously watching these proceedings. Many of them rather feel building of a showdown.

 

The PML-N MNAs also preferred not to spin threatening stories after getting the upsetting news. Shehbaz Sharif, the PML-N President and the opposition leader in the national assembly, was found “positive” after getting himself tested for Corona. Through a Tweet, his London-based son instantly put the blame on NAB, which forced the PML-N leader to reach one of its offices in Lahore to answer a list of fresh questions, asking the “real sources” of his income.

 

Shehbaz Sharif is a cancer-survivor. Referring to it, the PML-N leader kept pleading that he should rather be put questions through Skype. NAB firmly refused to budge. One should sincerely pray for quick recovery of Shahbaz Sharif.

 

As if the Corona-triggered gloom were not enough to frighten us, Syed Fakhar-e-Imam once again took the floor Thursday to candidly admit that so far the government was not sure about how and with what intensity the swarms of locusts would hit Pakistan after around two weeks. But to assuage the house, he furnished details of vigilant monitoring and grand scale surveys and sprays the government was employing to prevent a deadly attack. Around 8000 personnel of the Pak Army, he said, were assisting the government, 24/7, to protect vast swaths of lands all over Pakistan.

 

Balochistan, already a resource-rich but extremely poor country, appears to be the main target of the locust attack. Its 33 districts were considered vulnerable. The coastal and close to desert areas of Sindh could be the second. And then the swarms of locusts could start moving to huge tracts of land in Southern Punjab before reaching Dera Ismail Khan of KPK via Mianwali and Bhukkur.

 

Far more frightening was the news that parallel to its historic routes, which bring locust to Balochistan and the rest of Pakistan via Iran from the deserts of Africa, the swarms of it had now discovered a new corridor. From Iran, they sneak into Afghanistan and from there tend to end up in Dera Ismail Khan via North and South Waziristan.

 

The previous attack of locusts had already damaged a substantive amount of recently sowed Cotton in Southern regions of Pakistan. Orchards of mangoes were also hit. In huge parts of this region fodder for the livestock was also swamped by the locusts. We have to keep our fingers crossed. COVID-19 has already pushed us to negative growth. This has never happened to our economy since 1951.

 

Even in worst times, Pakistan has never faced the life or death kind of food shortages. Climate change is fast disturbing the rain cycle, though. It has already damaged almost 20 per cent of wheat we had expected for this year. A massive attack of locusts could surely cause unimaginable damage to our crops, which also has the potential of turning ominous if the monsoon this year bring above average rains to Pakistan.