City Notes

The opposition had a rather mixed time of it, though on the whole it must have realised that it was probably ahead in the game. True, it lost the PPP-168 by-election, in which the ruling PTI won back the seat it had lost in the general election. The PML(N) might take comfort from the narrowness of the loss, which was less than 1000 votes, compared to the 20,000+ margin of the general election.

Despite that big win, the PML(N) had lost the national seat. But it was vacated by the winner, Imran Khan himself, and it was won by the PML(N) general election loser, Kh Saad Rafique. He gave up his provincial seat, and gave an opportunity to Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to prove himself. He did, and by wiping out the 20,000-plus margin, wiped out all those suggestions that he should do the honourable thing after losing the seat in the by-election. Not only that, he had failed to overturn any of the PML(N) seats in that election. But now he seems to be settling into the job, and showed that he is indeed the son of someone who paid blood money to be acquitted from a multiple murder in an election dispute.

NAB allowed Kh Saad to claim that it was to blame for the PML(N) defeat. It arrested him, you see, as soon as the Lahore High Court cancelled his pre-arrest bail. It arrested him for the Paragon Housing Scheme. It had also arrested Mian Shehbaz Sharif for the Ashiana Housing Scheme. A pattern is developing here. Which of the PTI’s luminaries is going to be arrested by NAB for the PM’s Housing Scheme? That would normally depend on the next government, but if the regime turns bad, becoming something like the Soviet Communist Party under Stalin, then the arrests will be purely arbitrary.

It’s no use saying it can’t happen. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the saying goes. Imran Khan has absolute power in his party, and you won’t find him undergoing an experience like the British PM, who had to undergo a vote of confidence, which she won handily. Everyone knew that the vote had been caused by the Brexit vote, and because she had withdrawn the package from a vote by the Commons because it would have been defeated.

The presence in the UK of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry before the vote may be claimed by the PTI as showing that it saved Theresa May as Prime Minister. In fact, the real reason was probably Imran Khan himself. Now if he had carried out a dharna against May, complete with a container outside Westminster, there was no way she would have lasted.

The UK is not the only European country facing a crisis, what with the yellow-vest protests continuing in France, with the 95 arrested only looking better than the 700 put in quod last week; and one more dead to make a total of eight since the protests started in mid-November. Then there’s the chancellorship turmoil in Germany, not to mention the Italian rumblings about leaving the European Union. And this doesn’t factor in terrorism, which claimed two deaths in the shooting on a Christmas shoppers’ crowd in Strasbourg, and a third later, as well as wounds to 27, by Cherif Chekatt, by his name of Algerian descent, though he was Strasbourg-born. He had 27 convictions in France, Germany and Switzerland, for theft and armed robbery. Though he shouted “Allahu Akbar” at the moment of shooting, he didn’t have a history of mental illness. Obviously, the French police are lying down on the job for failing to provide this evidence which would make Chekatt fit the profile of a terrorist, of someone so mentally ill he doesn’t know how lucky he is to be in the West. Chekatt was stopped by the local police by the simple expedient of shooting him dead.

Chekatt’s deed or death did not excite our opposition as much as Aleema Khan’s being ordered to pay a fine to the tax authorities, or Mian Shehbaz Sharif finally being given the go-ahead to chair the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly. The PTI didn’t want him to be Chairman, because the government whose spending he would deal with, would be that of his brother. The problem was that the Opposition made so much of an issue of it, that it refused to take part in the other standing committees, and thus prevented even the National Assembly from legislating. At the same time, the PTI can’t pass bills through the Senate.

Apart from the PTI’s need, there is a tradition that the Leader of the Opposition is elected Chairman of whichever committee he is a member of. It is a courtesy, because the government majority on that committee remains, and the committee cannot be stopped from doing anything the government wants, nor forced to do anything embarrassing to it. However, it is a Punjab Assembly tradition that the Chairman picks the PAC-1 to join, and thus become its Chairman. The Punjab Assembly would see Hamza Shehbaz become PAC Chairman and thus the government of the father would be reviewed by the son. The apparent task of the Buzdar government, of throwing Mian Shehbaz to the ground and then kicking him, would not be fulfilled. But now that Imran has given up the dream for Mian Nawaz, would Buzdar be far behind?