‘Ominously promoting the feeling of doom and gloom’

It indeed is time for all the opposition parties, otherwise feeling too good and comfortable for being crowded with “highly experienced politicians,” to honestly admit that the Imran Government has mastered all possible techniques and tools of narrative control. And its opponents and critics are yet not able to find an effective pushback strategy. If still in doubt, pray considering what had happened Friday.

In the morning editions, all our major newspapers gleefully flashed a story, with cheering headlines, revealing that in spite of the flood of stories, ominously promoting the feeling of doom and gloom, our economy had grown at an amazing rate of 5.6% in last financial year.

But we remained unaware of the encouraging rate, so far, simply because our policy planners had been measuring our economy with standards that had been set nine years ago. These standards surely required updating. And doing the same, the National Accounts Committee had finally discovered Thursday that preparing this year’s budget, six months ago, our planners failed to add a huge amount of Rs3.1 trillion to fix the aggregate volume of our economy. Our Per Capita Income also reflected satisfactory growth by reaching $ 1,666 from 1,543. In US dollar terms the size of our economy has now reached the level of $ 347 billion.

I am an absolute economic-illiterate and always hated Math classes in school. Data analysis thus remains far beyond my capacity. Yet, despite being a dimwit when it comes to reading number-laden stories, I could instantly notice that even after deep ‘rebasing,’ our economy was still not crossing the aggregate figures the PML-N government had left in 2018. For spinning a feel-good story, however, the government was completely justified to proudly project the new figures in the context of hope-demolishing gloom that COVID-19 had spread in all countries of the world.

The government appeared vigorously active on the narrative-controlling front, by not relying merely on releasing the new and self-pleasing data to media outlets. It also asked Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the foreign minister, to reach the National Assembly Friday morning and grab the floor for rubbing in a grand feel-good story.

With a focused and hypocritically humble speech, Qureshi kept flaunting the newly discovered figures to burn the hearts of members sitting on the opposition benches. They certainly failed to subvert his narration of an all-is-well story with usual taunts and barbs.

Before telling the economy-related story, though, Shah Mahmood Qureshi cunningly spent ample time to embarrass the members sitting on benches allotted to Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N).

On Thursday, the Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court had formally charged a retired Chief Judge of Gilgit-Baltistan, Rana Shamim, for committing the contempt of court by authoring an affidavit. Sadistically recalling the said development, Qureshi went on to drum the allegations that the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, and his loyalists had a long history of manipulating the judiciary to extract favorable decisions. When failing to manage the same, they viciously switch to malign the judiciary by employing perennial and all sorts of foul means. He kept insisting that much-discussed affidavit also fell in the same category.

Fairly late during Friday’s proceedings, Ahsan Iqbal, a leading PML-N member, got the floor to present the counter narrative. He is an Ivy-League product and mostly delivers engaging speeches in the National Assembly. But on Friday, he visibly was ‘not there’. Instead of a focused rebuttal of the numbers, proudly flaunted by Qureshi, he preferred desultory point scoring. That helped the story told by Qureshi to sound more credible and convincing.

But the same Ahsan Iqbal turned more engaging by angrily wondering over the fast growing sounds and fury of the debate, dominating the regular and social media for the past one week, to promote the ‘necessity’ of replacing the Parliamentary system of governance with Presidential form of government in Pakistan. Instead of wasting time in discussing the pros and cons of both forms of government, he kept aggressively asking, “Who has unleashed and sponsored the said debate?”

He surely had a strong point to furiously press the said question by repeatedly reminding that Pakistan already had an appropriately written Constitution. It unequivocally requires the parliamentary system to prevail. Lest you forget, all members sitting in the current parliament had also taken the oath of not only obeying but also protecting the same Constitution, which provides hardly any space to install the Presidential form of governance in Pakistan.

Firmly questioning the timing of recently unleashed debate, Ahsan Iqbal sounded justified to strongly suspect that some powerful quarters of our perpetually scheming deep state had unleashed the said debate.

Not a person from the ministerial benches felt the need of furnishing answers to the questions aggressively put by Ahsan Iqbal. Hammad Azhar took the floor, for sure. But he wanted to get even with Iqbal on some purely personal points and then the National Assembly was prorogued. The government certainly looked good, confident and too comfortable during the last day of a session, primarily summoned to approve the mini-budget that empowered the government to collect an additional amount of Rs377 billion from you and I by withdrawing tax exemptions on almost each item of everyday consumption.

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