On Thursday, the Senate took some time out from debate to embarrass Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Law and Justice Barrister Zafarullah Khan. The awkward situation emerged when Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani did not allow the presentation of a report of the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice in the house on the grounds that a stranger (Barrister Zafarullah Khan) had been sitting in the committee meetings. According to the Chairman, Barrister Zafarullah could not sit in the standing committees, as he did not take oath of the minister of state; essentially questioning the office of a “special assistant with the status of a minister of state”.

While the Senate’s desire to follow correct procedure and protocol is commendable, its reasons for singling out Zaffarullah Khan are inexplicable. The practice of the Prime Minister appointing special assistants is an accepted one, and so too is the practice of awarding them the status of a Minister of State. Currently eight other special assistants have been given the status of State Minister and one has been awarded the status of a Federal Minister. The Senate, Parliament and the Executive continues to interact with these special assistants as per their given status. So in this context, suddenly refusing to allow Zafarullah Khan to sit in on a meeting because he had not taken an oath seems arbitrary at best and petty at worst.

Of course, the Senate could make an argument – and many in the government are - that the myriad special assistants, special advisors, state ministers and people with the same status as ministers are overcrowding the executive. In political circles, these appointments are seen as rewards to be handed out to loyal politicians – who then also enjoy the same perks, remuneration and privileges of a minister. However, if they wish to make this argument, they have to themselves stop treating all special advisors and assistants like other ministers, and to take this matter to the court.