Since the resumption of parliamentary business early this week, I had been eagerly waiting for Asad Umar to take the lead in dealing with it.

Around two months ago, when the COVID-19 appeared set to invade Pakistan, Prime Minister asked the Planning Minister to take charge of the National Command and Operational Center (NCOC).

This forum was established on SOS basis to check the mass scale spread of the pandemic. All outfits dealing with issues of public health and collecting intelligence-based data are represented there. During its daily meetings, chief ministers of our provinces consistently participate in its deliberations.  The high profile of this forum certainly created a stir, motivating many of us to presume that by combining their resources and collective wisdom, federal and the provincial governments were developing an effective and focused policy to combat COVID-19 through a consensus.

The said presumption also forced me to repeatedly suggest in this column that Asad Umar should stay present throughout the general discussion on Corona, in both the houses of parliament. The national assembly and the Senate have been meeting on alternate days. Their sessions were summoned, ostensibly to seek guidance of “our representatives” for concentrated reviewing of the strategy for dealing with Corona-driven issues.

Instead of staying focused on an issue of utmost public concern, however, most parliamentarians, from both sides of the aisle, preferred drifting to mudslinging and trivial point scoring. One would not hesitate to blame Shah Mahmood Qureshi for triggering the drift.

Initiating the discussion on COVID-19, in both the houses of parliament, the Foreign Minister primarily transmitted the message as if the Imran government had almost succeeded in preventing the mass scale spread of the pandemic, by devising an efficient strategy on its own. He kept projecting the thought as if the opposition parties were actually feeling envious of this success story. Instead of appreciating good deeds of the Imran government, its haters were spreading fake stories of doom and gloom.

While niggardly dismissing the doomsday possibilities, Shah Mahmood Qureshi specifically targeted the PPP-led government of Sindh. Blaming it for taking undue advantage of the provincial autonomy, guaranteed by the 18th amendment of our Constitution, the wily politician in Qureshi also dropped heavy hints to prepare us for the day when his party, i.e. the PTI, would also take full command and control of the second largest province of Pakistan.

Speaking for the government, most ministers often switched to mockingly wonder over the absence of Shehbaz Sharif as well. The PML-N president and the leader of the opposition in the national assembly could not come to Islamabad to attend the sessions, opposition parties had seemingly enforced upon the government through submitting a requisition.

Meanwhile, the ultimate overseer of the accountability business these days, Shahzad Akbar Mirza, also addressed a lengthy press conference to flaunt “documentary evidence” to project Shehbaz Sharif as a politician, allegedly abusing his authority to amass millions by dubious means.

Through their speeches in parliamentary houses, the government representatives kept repeating the ten pertinent questions that Mirza had articulated to question the deeds of Shehbaz Sharif.

Watching the parliamentary proceedings, throughout the past five days, you would seldom feel that Pakistan was enduring a pandemic-triggered gloom. Everything rather looked like the pre-Corona normal.

As the diligent-looking head of NCOC, Asad Umar surely savored the legitimate credentials for keeping things under control and to manage them to stay focused on Corona-related issues with energetic and timely interventions. But he preferred to act indifferent and eventually opted to deliver the winding up speech, only too close to the end of a brief national assembly session Friday.

The operative part of his speech forcefully questioned the idea of opting for a complete lockdown to elude COVID-19. To him, it failed to deliver even in the rich and resourceful countries like the USA and Britain. While projecting the downsides of a complete lockdown, Umar also kept proudly reminding us that Imran Khan had remained the one and only leader of the world, who loudly questioned the validity of the lockdown strategy from day one of the arrival of Corona in Pakistan. His vigilant mind clearly imagined and his caring heart deeply felt concerned with miseries, complete lockdown would bring to millions of daily wage earners and the left behind sections of Pakistan.  Questioning the strategy of a complete lockdown, Asad Umar also suggested, implicitly, with a bitter heart that most of our so-called educated types habitually rush to emulate whatever was practiced in the West. They don’t strain their own minds to imagine doable ideas in the concrete context of our everyday realities. Yet, he remained shy to state it out loud that in the end, Pakistan had apparently decided to take the route of “herd immunity.”

The media-savvy minister of planning was visibly annoyed, “with a section of English newspapers,” which to him was trying to project the feeling that the “Hope and Pray” were main drivers of the Imran government’s strategy for dealing with COVID-19. He had to remind our own kind of “doubting Thomas” that for being Muslims we have to have a strong faith in God and to pray for his mercy. The strong faith in God does not stop you from searching for an effective strategy to deal with the pandemic. He certainly seemed to have developed one to cope with the current scene of gloom. The rest of his speech merely highlighted the salient points of the pandemic in the country.

For another day, the recently inducted Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Dr Babar Awan, reiterated the message that the Imran government had no plan to tweak the 18th amendment of our Constitution, at least at this point in time. He had stated the same during the Senate sitting Thursday.

The assuaging message, Dr Awan has been transmitting for the past two days would, sadly, not help scuttling the whispering campaign, unleashed against the 18th amendment for more than six weeks. As if to provide substantive content of insidious rumors, Dr Fehmida Mirza, a former Speaker of the National Assembly, delivered a speech Friday, which needs to be further probing.

For many decades, she has remained a diehard PPP loyalist. Her husband, Dr Zulfikar Mirza, had been a childhood buddy of Asif Ali Zardari. They fell apart in the mid-2011. Unconfirmed rumors in Islamabad keep claiming that Mirza had discreetly landed in Islamabad some days ago and was having late night meetings with ultimate manipulators of the political scene to evolve “something stunningly new” for Sindh. Speculations were also rife to project him as the possible but an “all-powerful governor” of the PPP-led province, “sometime after Eid.”

To contest for a national assembly seat from Badin, an important coastal town in Sindh, Dr Fehmida Mirza sought support of the Grand Democratic Alliance. The alliance mostly represents the PPP-hating “electables” from powerful families of Sindh. This outfit supports the Imran government and thus helped Dr Fehmida Mirza to get the ministry of inter-provincial coordination.

Disregarding the coordination-seeking face of her ministry, Dr. Fehmida Mirza kept widely quoting various articles of our constitution, which to her interpretation made it obligatory for the federal government to “monitor and check” about how the provincial governments were spending huge amounts of billions, provided to them after the 18th amendment and through the National Finance Commission Award, to singularly address issues related to health and education.

The tone and tenor of her speech would certainly convey an intimidating message to PPP-led government of Sindh.