Khawaja Asif and Asad Umar are the most articulate representatives of their respective parties. Before switching to fulltime politics, both of them had also spent long years in serving for sectors, directly dealing with vibrant aspects of economic activity.

One was thus fully justified to expect that while opening the general discussion on budgetary proposals Monday afternoon, they would help the economic illiterates like me to fathom the good or bad sides of these proposals. Both of them kept rubbing in the hackneyed narratives and remained brutally vicious in throwing mud at each other’s leadership. In the zeal of scoring points, they recklessly failed to focus their attention on the deepening gloom COVID-19 had brought to this country since the advent of 2020.

The leader of the opposition normally opens the general discussion on budgetary proposals, as per the established parliamentary traditions. But Shehbaz Sharif, the PML-N leader, has been forced to self-quarantine himself after getting infected by the Corona virus. Being the senior most leader of his party, Khawaja Asif was asked to initiate the debate on his behalf. Instead of an assiduous dissection of the second budget of Imran government, point by point, Khawaja Sahib preferred to please the hawkish base of his party by vigorously living up to his reputation of an unforgiving orator.

The initial parts of his speech sounded as if studiously aiming at a comprehensive appraisal. COVID-19, for sure, remains an on going story. Apparently, we have to wait until the end of August this year to correctly assess the accumulated damages the pandemic is set to cause to our economy. Preparing a budget for a full year, without reaching “there,” at this point in time, certainly looked like an audacious attempt. The PML-N leader was justified to insist that we must treat the proposals, tabled on June 12, 2020, as “interim.” We also need to prepare ourselves for a series of mini-budgets in the days to come.

 

Khawaja Asif sounded justified for savagely taking on Dr. Hafeez Sheikh, a technocrat the IMF has loaned to us for presumably pushing Pakistan on the road to economic recovery. At least two previous governments of Pakistan since the start of this century had already attempted to seek guidance from his wisdom. Last time, he had served the PPP government for around two years. He miserably failed to deliver and left the country in early-2011.

 

Things don’t look promising under his command, for another time as well. No wonder, Khawaja Sahib kept calling him a “mercenary” and forcefully demanded that he must be asked to sign a “performance bond,” along with the promise that he would again not leave the country without delivering.

 

Dr. Raza Baqir, an all-powerful Governor of the State Bank, is also an IMF-darling. Khawaja Asif lynched his monetary and fiscal management with solid points. After demolishing the unelected economic czars, he kept naming as “liquidators” and “undertakers,” the PML-N leader should then have switched to help us imagine the guiding principles and guide lines of the budgetary proposals, if his party was still in power.

 

Instead of employing his mind to this task, he went on and on to fondly remember the “good old days,” when his leader Nawaz Sharif had been the prime minister of Pakistan. The claims of significant economic progress during that period, he did backup with solid data. He sounded legitimate in stressing that the Imran government should refrain from making us believe as if things were turning rosy until the attack of COVID-19. The figures we have for the period from August 2018 to March 2020 don’t support the said story. How to move on from here? That was the question Khawaja Asif preferred to furnish no answer to, however.

 

His passionate and ceaseless praising of Nawaz Sharif rather provided ample space to Asad Umer for tauntingly recalling the allegedly corrupt practices the Sharifs had been associated with. On the contrary, Imran Khan, he had to stress with pride, was declared “Sadiq” and “Ameen” by the Supreme Court of Pakistan after deep probing the sources of his wealth.

 

Asad Umer also heads the NCOC, the ultimate institution monitoring the trajectory of COVID-19 in Pakistan. Yet, he touched Corona for a while only and for another time kept eagerly defending the strategy for “herd immunity,” which the Imran government definitely appeared to have adopted for dealing with the pandemic. He always turns delirious when it comes to shred the policy of lockdown.

 

Previously, he used to ceaselessly refer to USA, UK, Italy and Spain etc., to prove his point. Of late, however, he has begun to compare our Corona-connected data with the scene prevailing in India these days. He alleged that the PML-N considered Narendra Modi as a “role model” of effective governance and wanted the Imran government to imitate his Corona-dealing policies.

 

India, he niggardly recalled, had gone for a “draconian lockdown.” Yet it produced a huge number of deaths in the end. The Indian economy had also been literally collapsed due to Modi’s strategy vis-à-vis COVID-19. Feeling too good and comfortable for comparing Pakistan with India, in the context of Corona, he felt no need to even remotely hint at the scenario, which could possibly surface in our country by early September 2020.

 

Swayed by the compulsion of singing praises for their leaders, neither Khawaja Asif nor Asad Umer spared even a few seconds to discuss the possible impact of the locust attack, anticipated to begin by the end of the next week. More than a score of world-renowned experts are constantly forewarning regarding the expected attack. Also frightening are the predictions of above average rains during the coming season of monsoon. But Khawaja Asif and Asad Umer seemed oblivious to these predictions.

 

Agha Rafi of the PPP deserves appreciation in the given context. In spite of mostly speaking for more than 9000 workers of Pakistan Steel Mills and repeatedly demanding increase in the salaries of low-grade of government employees, this first timer from Karachi allotted sufficient time to elaborate the possible impact of a deadly attack of locusts.

 

For being hooked to national assembly proceedings Monday afternoon, I could not listen to speeches delivered on budgetary proposals in the Senate. Thanks to “pool sharing” by my colleagues, however, one is forced to believe that Ms. Sherry Rehman and Raza Rabbani of the PPP had delivered far more engaging and hitting on the nail sort of speeches in our upper house of parliament.