After attending the joint parliamentary sitting in the morning, which was addressed by the Turkish President, hardly a few members of the national assembly cared coming to their own house, separately scheduled to meet Friday afternoon. They were expected to resume discussion on high rate of inflation there.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, however, had upset the opposition leaders by passing “threat-sounding” remarks against Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the leader of a powerful political party of the religious Right, Jamiat-e-Ulma-e-Islam, JUI (F).

At the Prime Minister’s Office, Imran Khan held a two-hour long meeting with a select group of reporters, after the Turkish President had left to meet his counterpart at Aiwan-e-Sadr.

Maulana had come to Islamabad late last year along with an impressive crowd. Ostensibly, he came here to extract the resignation of Imran Khan with clear intent of eventually getting early elections, leading to formation of a new national assembly and a prime minister elected by it.

After staying put in Islamabad for more than two weeks, Maulana surprised many by suddenly announcing the termination of his sit-in. He justified this somewhat strange decision by cunningly claiming that “people,” covertly meeting him during his stay in Islamabad had committed “fresh elections” to him.

He never revealed the names of “people”, presumably meeting him discreetly. His confidence did attempt to make us believe as if powerful representatives of powers that be had reached some “deal” with him.

Cynics like me never believed the story Maulana had been telling with utmost confidence. Apparently, he had only been meeting the Chaudhrys of Gujarat during his stay in Islamabad. They are “well-connected,” no doubt, but also remain the weighty stakeholders of the power pie that the election of July 2018 had furnished.

Even on their own, they would hate to face an early election at this point in time and may want to continue enjoying the power and political clout while being coalition partners of the PTI, both in Islamabad and Lahore. The story Maulana had weaved sounded more like a face-saving invention.

Of late, however, Maulana had again begun claiming that certain “promises” were made to him during his stay in Islamabad late last year. Since the alleged promises were not “fulfilled,” he feels compelled to stage another march to Islamabad to get rid of the Imran government.

During the prime minister’s meeting with a group of journalists Friday, one reporter drew Imran Khan’s attention to Maulana’s claims. In a taunting tone, the prime minister questioned veracity of the story told by Maulana. He also suggested, perhaps teasingly, that “conspiracy” to topple an elected government, through covert meetings, was considered “treason” by the Constitution of Pakistan. Its Article 6 also prescribes severe punishment for it. The recent statements of Maulana could force the government to invoke the same article against him.

All of the opposition parties took the prime minister’s comments, seriously. At the outset of the national assembly sitting Friday afternoon, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Khawaja Asif invoked the right of speaking through point of order. Both of them vigorously pressed the point that Imran Khan’s remarks must not be taken lightly. Of late, he had been displaying some “authoritarian streaks.” Many top leaders of the opposition parties were sent to jail in the name of accountability, media had been firmly tamed and now the government seemed determined to “regulate” social media to block the voices of dissent.

Both the PPP and the PML-N leaders kept claiming that threatening posturing by the government rather reflects its panic and desperation. It has lost public support and desperately wants to hold on to power by resorting to authoritarian measures. Claiming this, they also mocked the “obvious limits” of the same government, however.

The government’s ire and might, they insisted, were only employed against politicians. It remained clueless whether Ehsan Ullah Ehsan, a high profile spokesperson of terrorist outfits “escaped” or not,from a safe house, he had been kept in for the past three years.

The threats of invoking Article 6 against Maulana Fazlur Rehman also forced them to recall the ease and comfort of Gen (Retd.) Musharraf against whom the previous PML-N government had established a case of “treason” by invoking the same article.

The son and political heir of Maulana, Assad Mehmud, also delivered a bombastic speech. It mostly focused on recalling the times when Imran Khan had staged a 5-month long Dharna against the Nawaz government in Islamabad in 2014. Islamabad felt as if besieged those days because the PTI leader continued to incite public to defy the government and the law enforcing authorities by taking “radical” initiatives.

No minister of the Imran government cared to assuage the opposition’s anxiety. They rather preferred that the national assembly should return to discuss the price hike. Due to the obvious lack of quorum and the absence of concerned ministers, they failed to move on the agenda in the end.

The government was feeling too good and pleased, anyway, about the visit of Turkish President. Erdogan’s poetic and passionate address to the joint parliamentary sitting was considered a huge diplomatic achievement. His firm support for the cause of Kashmir certainly pleased the mass of our people and Imran government was justified to flaunt it as solid dividend of its diplomatic efforts on Kashmir.

Some senior ministers felt doubly satisfied with Erdogan’s speech before the joint parliamentary sitting. Most of them had been anxiously apprehending that during his speech, he might pass remarks possibly upsetting some of our “brotherly countries,” which had helped the Imran government to avert the “near-bankruptcy” by furnishing financial cushions, immediately after it came to power in August 2018.

The opposition, on the other hand, strongly feels that after feeling somewhat stable and comfortable, the government was tempted to get more of their leaders arrested, primarily in the name of accountability. “The threat” of invoking Article 6 against Maulana Fazlur Rehman rather appeared as if going a notch up in the same context.

Almost each reporter, covering the doings of National Accountability Bureau, looked almost certain to expect the arrest of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Feb 13. After a long gap of 8 months, NAB had summoned the PPP leader to explain the alleged transactions through “fake accounts” Thursday. He was expected to explain bank deposits and withdrawals, which presumably touched the straggling sum of 1.22 billion rupees.

The accountability outfits had confidentially been telling to journalists in whispers that “confessional statement” of a powerful player of the real estate business had helped them to prepare an “open and shut case” against Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He would not be able to elude arrest and subsequent trial this time around.

The PPP Chairman was only given a questionnaire, when he went to NAB headquarters Tuesday. “Sources” from NAB, instead of feeling embarrassed, instantly spun the story that NAD “postponed” the idea of arresting Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, only to let him attend the joint parliamentary sitting addressed by the Turkish President. His arrest is almost “imminent, maximum by the middle of next month.”

 

Not bothered about NA

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