‘Noor Alam kept wailing and wailing’

Of late, I have been often missing writing this column. The prime reason for it remains the creeping glaucoma that prevents me from driving after sunset and the National Assembly prefers to meet in the evening.

In spite of this health-driven handicap, the thick skin of mine keeps pushing me to defy the same. Since 1985, I had turned literally an addict to watching and reporting on parliamentary proceedings. Missing them makes me feel disoriented; also brings the pangs of guilt and pain for ‘missing the action.’

After sharing my true feelings, I also have to add that the National Assembly, which we have been suffering since April of this year, is no longer the arena of interesting and engaging political sessions. Business there often looks like a badly attempted farce by amateur artists, recklessly disregarding fundamentals of their trade.

How can you ever imagine a ‘functional house,’ to begin with, from where 120-plus members of the largest party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), had already submitted “collective resignations?” They don’t even transmit the subtle intent of returning and without them parliamentary proceedings continue to look like staging ‘Hamlet’ without its main character.

Yet by shamelessly employing astonishing audacity, the eleven-party government that had replaced Imran Khan in April, desperately wants us to take the illusion for real that Pakistan remains an ‘Islamic Republic’ with a vibrant parliament in absolute control. But the reality of imagined “control” was completely exposed during Wednesday’s sitting of the National Assembly. And we should feel extremely grateful to Noor Alam Khan for projecting it.

Noor Alam is a relatively younger parliamentarian from Peshawar. After starting his political career from Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), he switched to the PTI to contest the election of 2018. But within some months of spending time there, he gradually began feeling like an alien to PTI’s culture and crowd. After many months of burning heart in silence, he finally began to speak up in the house even when Imran Khan had been appearing in complete command and control.

Our political history rarely projects examples where legislators of a ruling party decide to ‘rebel’ due to some ‘principles.’ Often, they act like that when feeling jilted or not being appropriately accommodated by a patronising ‘Patriarch.’ But I failed to find any solid evidence to put Noor Alam in the said category. He essentially is an upright person; represents ‘old money’ and yet somewhat keen to do something good for his voters and the country as an elected member of the National Assembly.

He firmly refused to join the crowd of those PTI members, who had submitted collective resignations and paid a significantly heavy price for it on many fronts, including real threats to his life. Due to his resistance, he also was subjected to insults and taunts at public places, even while dining at a pricey restaurant in Islamabad. Noor Alam continues to sit on the opposition benches these days and in this capacity also heads the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

In a real and functioning parliamentary democracy, the said committee is an awe and fear inspiring body. It remains the ultimate authority to vet and diligently double-check audit reports related to expenditures made by all departments of ‘the Executive’. Its authority and function rather provide content to the notion of “no taxes without representation” that eventually helped to create and strengthen the democratic system.

But thanks to a peculiar brand of hybrid democracy that we remain hostage to for so many decades, most powerful institutions of our State don’t consider themselves answerable to this committee. Coward me wouldn’t want to name them. Suffice is to recall that “sensitivity” attached to matters related to defense and national security helps shunning the “corrupt and incompetent politicians.’ It is also claimed that the institutions, protected from PAC’s oversight, have developed their own systems of audit that are presumed more advanced, strict and vigilant. But the immunity, defense-connected offices had extracted from the PAC, eventually motivated the Judiciary to claim similar sort of privilege for itself as well. No parliamentarian ever dared to exercise any push back during its initial phase and now it has also gone beyond the reach of PAC. Yet Justice (Retd) Javed Iqbal, a former head of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), must think twice before claiming such immunity for his person. After all, his office remained a “Civilian outfit” like the rest of bureaucratic offices.

As the Chairman NAB, Mr Iqbal relished the enviable authority of signing on the arrest warrant on any top ranking politician, including the former prime ministers, and bureaucrats in the name of probing the real or imagined crimes of grave corruption. The usual right of bail is not available to the person that the NAB would nab.

While enjoying the powers of an ultimate Czar of the anti-corruption body, Mr Iqbal turned extremely controversial. A series of video leaks projected him as a ‘serial harasser’ of women coming in contact with him due to certain matters being probed by the NAB. One would sincerely want to believe that he was deliberately targeted with malicious intent. But with utmost contempt and visible arrogance, he never appeared seriously moving to establish the “doctored attempts,” if they really were, to malign him.

After his retirement, some of his alleged victims approached the PAC to demand a deep probe of the allegations amplified by them. After listening to the stories, one such ‘victim’ told, ‘on record’ and during PAC meetings, Noor Alam took the correct step of summoning Mr Iqbal to the same committee for telling his side of the story. But Mr Iqbal had refused to go there; rather approached the court to claim immunity. Through a lengthy speech in the House Wednesday, Noor Alam kept wailing and wailing to desperately plead to his legislator comrades that they should vigorously support him to reassert authority of the forum, parliament, otherwise presumed to be “sovereign to all” in this country.

As a naïve devotee to the notion of democracy and parliament’s supremacy, I certainly felt spontaneous sympathy for him. Yet, the realistic reconsideration eventually compelled me to wonder how a half-deserted National Assembly, functioning without 125-plus members of the largest political party, could even dream of asserting its authority and sovereignty. Another watching of parliamentary proceedings had thus deepened my disregard for this National Assembly and its shenanigans.

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