Living up to his image of being soft and friendly, the recently inducted minister of information, Shibli Faraz, delivered a speech in the Senate Thursday. It seriously attempted to transmit the message that the Imran government would welcome concrete suggestions from the opposition, with an open heart, for evolving an effective strategy to combat COVID-19. Taking the floor after him, some ruling party representatives continued drifting to cheap point scoring, however.

Accountability monitor of the Imran government, Shahzad Akbar Mirza, had addressed a lengthy press conference Wednesday. It was shown live by all TV channels. Through the same, ten pertinent questions were conveyed to PML-N President. Shehbaz Sharif was expected to prove his “innocence” by furnishing clear answers to them.


The PTI representatives kept referring to those questions during their speeches in the Senate Thursday. They also laughed at his absence from the national assembly session, in spite of being the Opposition Leader. An offensive blitz has surely been launched to push the PML-N leader to a defensive corner and he has yet to respond with a counter punch.


Far more surprising but clearly assuaging was the speech that Dr Babar Awan had delivered, after taking charge of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs. For the past six weeks, insidious whispers kept claiming that the Imran government had made up its mind to get rid of the 18th amendment of our Constitution.


A definite group of the so-called YouTube influencers, often perceived as spinning feel-good stories for the powers that be, had begun feverishly highlighting some “treacherous” clauses of this amendment. We were made to believe that these clauses were promoting “secessionist ideas” and vicious enemies of Pakistan had developed nefarious schemes to take advantage of them.


Initiating the general discussion on Corona, in both the houses of parliament early this week, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi didn’t help dispelling the whisper campaign. This senior most minister of the Imran government rather sounded too aggressive while taking on the PPP-led government in Sindh. He was almost explicit in promoting the feeling as if the 18th amendment had crippled the federal government’s capacity for efficiently dealing with Corona-triggered crisis.


Dr. Awan was straight and blunt while insisting from the Senate-floor that Imran government had no plan to review the 18th amendment, at least at this point in time. He rather tried to spin a crafty story to vend the idea as if some opposition leaders were willing to cooperate with the government, if it really wanted to dilute certain clauses of the same amendment. In return, of course, they expected some kind of an “NRO” to elude accountability. He firmly ruled out the possibility of such a deal as well.


In spite of being a diehard loyalist of Nawaz Sharif, Pervez Rashid used to participate in parliamentary discussions with measured tone and matter-of-factly approach. He certainly sounded like a different person Thursday and delivered a stunning speech. The primary target of his rage remained the self-righteous types, who had been projecting Corona as “the fury of God,” provoked by our “sinful deeds.” His turn came too late in the day, however, and not one senator from any party of the religious-Right was present in the house, when he began thundering. That surely helped him to get away with delivery of an apparently provocative speech.


Cutting across the party divide, three senators from Balochistan furiously objected to the nomination of Javed Jabbar, aka JJ, a media savvy intellectual and filmmaker from Karachi, as the “non-official” representative of their province, when it would come to negotiating terms for the fresh National Finance Commission Award.


The said arrangement oversees the division of financial resources between the federal and the provincial governments. Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s Baluchistan National Party (BNP) in an ally of the Imran government. Yet its representative in the Senate, Jamaldeeni, was equally vocal to question his nomination. The objections, drummed regarding Javed Jabbar’s nomination to National Finance Commission, surely had the potential of stoking a new controversy, related to an already compounded issue of the “provincial autonomy.”


For another day, COVID-19 could not attract the absolute focus of “our representatives.” Desultory speeches consumed many hours. This helped the ministers like Shibli Faraz to seriously wonder what concrete strategy, the opposition senators had devised for combating COVID-19. The visible lack of it facilitated him to seriously suspect that anti-Imran elements were simply pushing the government to opt for the curfew like lockdown for many months to come.


From the heart of their hearts, very experienced politicians crowding the opposition parties knew for a fact that middle-income countries like Pakistan could just not afford to sustain such a lockdown. It is bound to cripple our economy and the opposition wants the Imran government to collapse due to its impact.


But Shibli Faraz and the rest of PTI representatives also appeared unequipped with a well-thought-out strategy. Hope seems to be the one and only driver of the policies, Imran government continues to adopt on almost day-to-day basis for dealing with Corona-triggered crisis.


The accumulated data on Corona certainly project that in Pakistan the pandemic has yet not hit with the intensity and scale of fury, witnessed in countries like the USA and Italy. We have also proven somewhat lucky for having a relatively lower rate of deaths. The prevalent scene indeed provides strong support to the idea of “herd immunity” and the government seems to have gone for it, without saying it out loud. Collectively, all of us are hoping for the best, although without being visibly prepared for the worst. One could but simply pray for the mercy of God in the given context.


Before ending this column, let me share with a wounded heart that three of my colleagues, who had been reporting on parliamentary proceedings since Monday, were suspected of being hit by the Corona virus. Before entering the parliament, they went through on the spot testing and without waiting for the results were allowed to go in and report from the press gallery.


I had declined to go through this exercise, while keeping in mind the reality of “asymptomatic carriers.” It was a very hard decision for a professional, addicted to reporting from the ground. You can certainly not get the real feel of the heat of parliamentary proceedings while staying at home and watching these proceedings via YouTube live stream.


The sad news, we got Thursday, had forced all of my colleagues, regularly visiting the press gallery since Monday, to go through the ordeal of fresh testing. Frantically hoping for the best, I could not stop myself from wishing that the government had facilitated testing of regulars to the press gallery of parliament, at least four days before commencement of the sessions of both houses.