Tuesday proceedings of the national assembly have forced many to seriously question the calibre of this house. Swayed by the obsessive zeal of getting even with their opponents, speakers from both sides of the aisle certainly behaved like schoolyard bullies. The language they used was loaded with sexist innuendos. And all this happened on a day, when “our representatives” were expected to stay focused on a very serious issue: the unbearable rate of inflation, forcing millions to feel abandoned and despondent these days.

The day after, both the government and the opposition seemed to be attempting some damage control. As if to help the house look sober and responsible, Dr. Hafiz Sheikh also attended Wednesday sitting of the national assembly.

Sheikh Sahib was born and brought up in Jacobabad and belonged to a middle class family, which had been pretty active in pro-poor politics in early 1970s. After graduating from the Boston University, he joined the World Bank and soon developed a life-long contempt for “political types.”

General Musharraf had persuaded him to return to Pakistan after taking over in October 1999. He was made the finance minister of Sindh. In that capacity, he was given credit for “upgrading and modernizing” the fiscal management of his home province.

Eventually, he reached the Senate as a “technocrat,” joined the federal cabinet. But another “technocrat,” Shaukat Aziz, felt allegedly threatened by his talent. As the financial czar of Musharraf days, he kept him away from the policy-making loop. Finding no utility for his brilliance, Sheikh Sahib quietly went abroad and enjoyed life as a high profile consultant for various business groups.

After Musharraf, Asif Ali Zardari also tried to harness his expertise for turning around the Pak economy. He failed to deliver, allegedly due to “political interference” and once again left for abroad. Imran government seemingly felt compelled to approach him last year, when one of its wizards, Asad Umer, failed to kick-start the recovery of our economy and sustain its effective management.

Prime Minister Imran Khan seemed quite pleased after getting Dr. Sheikh as the captain of his economic team. Once taking full command and control of the finance ministry, Dr. Sheikh quickly negotiated a “bailout package” with IMF. To ensure effective execution of an IMF-designed program, he also persuaded another expert from the IMF to serve his motherland as an autonomous and powerful Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.

The duo, comprising Dr. Hafiz Sheikh and Raza Baqir, has yet to complete nine months in the government. But insidious whispers have already begun to badmouth them. The recently collected data by the government run institutions clearly indicates that the said duo have yet to produce any positive outcomes despite their combined brilliance. The business activity remains sluggish, unemployment is expanding to frightening extent and the rate of inflation constantly keeps jumping up to unbearable limits. The real or “manufactured” shortages of wheat and sugar further damaged the credibility of this duo.

Little wonder, early this week the Pakistan Stock Exchange had to endure tremors due to rumours, claiming that fearing the political blowback of policies, the said duo had adopted in the name of recovering and reforming economy, Prime Minister Imran Khan had actively begun thinking of sacking both Dr. Hafiz Sheikh and Raza Baqir.

Not for once I believed the said rumour. To my humble mind, it is not the Imran government only but ‘the State of Pakistan’, which had committed to enforce and execute the IMF-designed program for our country. September 2020 is the cut-off month of its completion. The IMF wouldn’t feel good, if Dr. Hafiz Sheikh and Raza Baqir were pulled out of the execution process of its program, almost at the outset of it.

Sheikh Sahib confirmed my hunch by walking into the national assembly Wednesday with utmost confidence. Although not elected to this house, he savours the right to sit on its front benches as an “advisor” and have the privilege to address it.

Like a typical ‘technocrat,’ Dr. Hafiz Sheikh remained condescending throughout his speech. With an amazingly tranquil-poise and comfort-inducing tone he virtually delivered a lecture like an accomplished scholar. He selected assuaging data and numbers for transmitting the message that things were not so bleak with the economy of Pakistan. The current state of our economy has rather earned praise from global institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Credit-rating agencies like Modi furnished a thumbs-up report on it. ‘Bloomsburg’ also felt excited.

Yet, Dr. Hafiz Sheikh felt somewhat hurt about taunts that people like him and Raza Baqir have been enduring for being perceived as IMF-favorites or nominees. The Governor State Bank was sitting in the officers’ gallery. Pointing out to him, he profusely praised “this son of Lahore, who was offered a lucrative job by the IMF, purely on merit,” after completing his education at a prestigious university.

He felt doubly hurt about bad mouthing of Baqir, “by people, who cannot even get any access to the corridors” of the headquarters of IMF. He sounded too passionate while trying to make us realize that Dr. Raza Baqir had left a highly coveted job to serve his motherland.

Building this sob story, Dr. Hafiz Sheikh remained oblivious to the fact that his speech would clearly tell the world that mere “merit” failed to ensure upward mobility for the bright and talented youth of Pakistan. He also was not so subtle in suggesting that to earn praise for their honest and dedicated work in local media, professionals like Dr. Hafiz Sheikh should manage paid ‘advertorials.’ While the credible journals of global reach do it by objective assessment.

Like an overawed seeker of knowledge about the things economic, I did listen to an hour-long speech of Dr. Sheikh with absolute attention. As a reporter, however, I was also keen to get a firm answer from him on an urgent question of public interest.

Rumors are rife in Islamabad, repeatedly claiming that to ensure the collection of at least 200 billion Pak rupees to meet the revenue targets, set for the current year’s budget, the Imran government was actively considering the idea of introducing a ‘mini-budget.’ Hafiz Sheikh behaved as if oblivious to these rumours and thus felt no need to talk about them.

Like a technocrat juggler, he did talk of “non tax revenues,” which might set a new record by the end of the current financial year. As an economic-illiterate, his boasts for the expected record forced me to imagine that the Imran government might try to compensate for possible shortfall in tax collection by sneakily increasing the rates of electricity and gas consumption and padding up ‘levies’ on petroleum products.

Dr. Hafiz Sheikh could have walked out of the house like a victor, after projecting a confidence-inducing state of our economy. To his bad luck, Shahid Khakan Abbassi, took the floor immediately after him. Abbassi has also attended an Ivy League University but preferred to live with the heat and dust of real time politics. After holding ministerial positions, he also served as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. By running a successful airline in the private sector, he has established the reputation of an accomplished entrepreneur as well.

Instead of rudely reacting to Dr. Sheikh’s claim on “patriotism,” he politely asked him to commit, “here and now that you will not leave Pakistan for the next ten years,” when the Imran government would not be around to keep you as a powerful minister. The minister preferred to act deaf to a daring question, politely put by the former prime minister.

With a very casual tone, Abbassi also earned a huge laughter by seriously wondering whether the members of this national assembly could visit their constituencies and satisfy voters, already panicky and jittery about the state of our economy, by merely showing them journals and reports of global credit agencies.

As an experienced politician, condemned to face blunt questions from the average Joe of this country, Abbassi was absolutely justified to tell Dr. Hafiz Sheikh that millions of Pakistanis gauge the state of their economy, primarily on the basis of the price they have to pay for buying items like wheat and sugar. Instead of delivering an assuaging lecture on macro-economy of Pakistan, the advisor on finance, should have focused on at least these two items.

The feel-good story, told by Dr. Hafiz Sheikh in condescending tone in the national assembly of Pakistan could thus not take off Wednesday.