While leaving the Parliament House early last week, immediately after presentation of the budget, I found a group of my favorite TV anchors walking towards the chambers, allotted to the Opposition Leader. They wanted to meet him and I decided to join them, just for the heck of it.

Noticing my entrance in his room, Shehbaz Sharif instantly left his chair and embraced me warmly. He genuinely wanted to serve tea and indulge in informal chat. I had to write this column and begged leave with a parting embrace.

Doing so, I politely informed him, in whisper, that the speech he had delivered in the National Assembly after returning from London was unreasonably long. It lacked focus and was awfully insipid.

He felt visibly hurt rather than annoyed and I felt bad about it. Perhaps I should have stopped myself from blurting out the unsolicited opinion.

I can still recall the guilt pang. Yet, the hardcore reporter in me felt forced to candidly state that the 3-hour-long speech that Mian Shehbaz Sharif was finally able to deliver to open general discussion on first budget of the Imran Government was a huge disappointment. Even his diehard fans must have felt let down by it.

Imran Government has certainly made history of sorts  by delaying this speech through non-stop heckling and fierce shouting. The house business remained suspended for more than four days, due to the unprecedented chaos that the treasury members triggered and sustained, almost recklessly.

Finally, the sanity returned Tuesday evening. Sober and experienced parliamentarians, from both sides, realized in their own interest that nonstop chaos in an elected house would completely erode, whatever was left about the worth and relevance of a dysfunctional parliamentary system in this country.

They persuaded their leaders and trigger-happy colleagues to reach some agreement. At least, speakers from both sides must be heard with large hearts and must not be interrupted by rude jeering.

Thanks to this agreement, Shehbaz Sharif had a dream-come-true kind of an opportunity Wednesday morning and he miserably failed to use it for articulating an engaging narrative.

The Opposition Leader also seemed oblivious to the fact that all 24/7 channels, including the state-run PTV, were covering his speech, live. While sitting in their homes and shops, millions must have been watching him, eagerly. He hardly had a story to spin, and that also without any vigor and energy.

To begin with, his long drawn out speech did not reflect the anxiety that millions of salaried persons and small business owners continue to endure since the advent of Imran Government in August 2018.

The gradual increase of utility rates and inflation are diminishing their real incomes. Almost each one of them fears slipping down to bottom, without spotting any hope for upward mobility.

Most people are no more interested to hold this or that government responsible for their panic. They seek hope, doable alternatives promising recovery.

Shehbaz Sharif had nothing to offer in this context. The operative part of his speech simply focused to convey the message as if he and his party were better managers of the economy than the “current incompetent lot.”

He kept drumming, apparently for legitimate reasons, that the PML-N government successfully addressed the issue of loadshedding and often referred to projects that made Lahore to look like a modern city with clean roads and government-funded public transport. But that’s about it.

He did “reject” the “IMF-prepared budget” at the tail end of his speech, but not for once cared to elaborate as to why the Imran Government finally felt forced to approach the IMF to seek a bailout package.

Doing this, the PTI did betray its vows of protecting Pakistan’s capacity to make “sovereign decisions” and make the country self-sufficient.

A huge portion of Shehbaz Sharif’s speech also remained devoted to vend the feeling that the idea of signing the CPEC-related agreements with China was discovered as “Eureka” by the PML-N government. He kept projecting them as ultimate panacea for all the economic problems of Pakistan.

He might have been right there. Yet, the question remains: Has the PTI government abandoned CPEC? No, if you go by appearances. The economic managers of Imran Government rather keep vowing, pretty loudly, that they would execute the said project far more vigorously than the previous government. CPEC does not appear evil or hampering to them.

The real causes of Pakistan’s dismal looking state of economy these days certainly need an exhaustive elaboration, in a lingo that an average Joe of this country can fathom instantly.

Being a very experienced politician, exposed to all nuances of growth and good governance since the early 1990s, Shehbaz Sharif had all the information to educate us in this context.

As the hands-on Chief Minister of the most populous province of Pakistan, for consecutive two terms, the current opposition leader in the National Assembly had diligently developed the reputation of a “doer” about him.

He could have lived up to this reputation by revealing a set of doable initiatives that could help the economic recovery of Pakistan, without passing all the burden of “bad times” to salaried people and owners of small businesses. He didn’t bother to take the said route and just repeated the desire that the government should reach an “accord of economy” with him and his party.

To ensure calm and peace during the PML-N President’s speech, the combined opposition had agreed to the government’s demand that a speaker from its benches would instantly respond to each speech from the opposition benches.

Federal Minister of Power, Omar Ayub, took full advantage of this agreement. Immediately after Shehbaz Sharif, he took the floor to vigorously assert that Pakistan reached the financial dire straits, due to “reckless borrowing” that the two governments of the PPP and the PML-N kept indulging in from 2008 to 2013. That led the country to near-bankruptcy and now it often feels frighteningly short of funds to pay interest on accumulated debts.

Blaming the “reckless borrowing” for all the economic ills of Pakistan is a pet theme of the PTI. Like it or not, it does sound convincing not only to this party’s “corruption-hating” base, but also to a huge majority of even apolitical minds.

Shehbaz Sharif looked oblivious to the pull of this potent theme throughout his speech. He had ample time to demolish it by developing a counter-narrative, showing us that all borrowings are not reckless and burdensome. With smart management, resource-less countries like Pakistan often succeeded in accelerating growth by converting debts to investing for a better future. He failed to furnish any answer in the said context.

For sure, the combined opposition desperately needs to spin a convincing-sounding counter narrative. Without it, the PTI ministers are comfortably set to keep drumming the theme, during the days, still left for general discussion on first budget of the Imran Government, which keep claiming that reckless borrowing combined with “loot and plunder of national resources” by the previous two governments since 2008, eventually pushed Pakistan to hopeless straits.

The number-strong opposition in the National Assembly will just not be able to score any point if the trend prevails, while participating in general discussion on budgetary proposals.