Only the other day, the upper house of parliament had smoothly completed the process of approving laws, which the Imran government strongly felt was urgently required to get Pakistan out of the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). 

Both the main opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), actively helped the government, both in preparing the drafts of these laws and eventually getting them approved from both the houses of parliament. The deep polarization that seemed to have been dangerously dividing the nation since the election of July 2018 certainly appeared dissipating due to these developments.

In the prevalent mood, only a fool had imagined that the number-strong opposition would trigger chaos and bedlam during the presidential address to the joint sitting of parliament Thursday. Yet, half-hearted attempts were initially made to drown the presidential speech in the noise of heckling. Arif Alvi took it lightly and smilingly expressed the hope that he would calmly be heard this time around. Perhaps not to disappoint him, the opposition parties eventually began slipping out of the house. It certainly facilitated smooth delivery of a 25-minute-long speech.

President’s annual address to joint parliamentary sitting had traditionally been tediously long and essentially prosaic. President Ali definitely appeared breaking the said tradition. He sounded as if not reading a well-drafted text but relying on talking points for expressing unprompted thoughts on some important issues. He spoke like a wise elder in the room. But doing this he did not sound like a pompous patriarch. His tone and tenor remained mild and patronizing.

The speech he delivered also betrayed ‘the script,’ the hawkish spokespersons of the Imran government keep repeating with delirious venom. It blames the previous governments of “looters and plunderers” for ruining institutional governance in Pakistan and recklessly executing policies that drained the national kitty.

Arif Alvi did refer to ‘corruption,’ but in passing and without throwing muck at opposition parties and leaders by naming and shaming them. Instead of wailing over the past, he preferred to spin the feel good stories and in the process repeatedly praised the Imran government, without sounding sycophantic.

Spinning the feel-good stories, he could not stop himself from complaining that our media continued spreading the feeling of doom and gloom. It doesn’t ignite hope and sustain it. President Ali was also not very fond of policies, which entirely depend on “Data and Science.”

To prove the point, he specifically referred to COVID-19. The data and science depended minds, he recalled, had been insisting that thousands of Pakistan would get killed due to the pandemic. Our health system would completely collapse while combating the contagion. They proved wrong in the end.

 

While deriding “the data and science dependent minds”, he fondly recalled a legendary commander of Islamic history, Tariq Bin Zayyad. Disregarding the forbidding realities of the sea, he had bravely crossed it to conquer Gibraltar and thus made history.

 

Proudly recalling the data-defying audacity of Tariq Bin Zayyad, President Arif Ali tried to build the thesis that while firmly sticking to the policy of ‘smart lockdown’ during the peak days of Corona, Prime Minister Imran Khan adopted the same approach. It certainly delivered and compelled the countries like Japan and

Philippine to admirably admire and acknowledge the dividends of the policy of a “smart lockdown.”

 

He also felt too proud to compare the success story of Pakistan vis-à-vis COVID-19 with draconian-looking lockdown; India’s Prime Minister had imposed upon his country. It had ruined millions. They felt abandoned and often traveled on foot for thousands of miles to seek shelter and protection.

 

Traditionally, the annual presidential addresses to joint parliamentary sittings used to devote lengthy paragraphs to explain and elaborate Pakistan’s foreign policy. President Alvi discarded the said practice as well. Yet he spent ample time to speak about Kashmir and India’s unilateral decision of annexing the occupied parts of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, with arrogant defiance of UN resolutions and bilateral treaties.

 

He strongly believed that as “the ambassador of Kashmir,” Prime Minister Imran Khan continued to diligently mobilize the world opinion and global institutions on this development. He specifically named and praised Peoples’ Republic of China, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran and Azerbaijan for extending firm support to Pakistan’s position on the issue of Kashmir.

 

He visibly attempted to downplay the confusion, recently surfacing regarding our relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, although stressing that Pakistan’s relations with the same country always “stay stable.”

 

He briefly talked about Afghanistan as well and expected positive outcome of the efforts for establishing peace there. Doing this, and even otherwise, he avoided to mention the United States of America and Pakistan’s relations with it.

 

All the opposition parties had walked out from his speech. But he did acknowledge and praise cooperative role they had played for smoothly getting the FATF-related laws passed by both the houses of parliament.

 

After walking out of the house, Khawaja Asif and Raja Pervez Ashraf jointly talked to the press. Talking for the PML- N and PPP, they complained that the date and time of the presidential address was fixed in indecent haste. The opposition was never consulted and this forced them to walk out of his speech, which they kept insisting, was nothing but a pack of blatant lies and self-praising delusions.

 

But they also sounded nursing delusions of a different sort, while insisting in conspiratorial tones that “people” who had allegedly “brought and propped up” the Imran government were now feeling completely disappointed with its performance.

 

Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat-e-Ulma-e-Islam refused to join them. Along with the representatives of Jamaat-e-Islami and nationalist parties from Baluchistan, they rather held a separate press conference. Usman Kakar of the Pushtunkhawa Milli Awami Party described this group as “the real opposition.”

 

He and Maulana Ghafoor Haidri of the JUI-F were far more aggressive while taking on the Imran government. They also kept stressing that the PML-N and PPP were “shamelessly behaving like its collaborators.” And the recent passage of FATF-related laws has fully “exposed” their reality and vulnerabilities. This affirmed the perception that deep divisions within the opposition were set to stay for many weeks to come.