ISLAMABAD - Former PPP premiers – Yousaf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf – worked under the shadow of Presidency as their political boss was pulling strings of the government. Yet they remained glued to the Lower House of the Parliament. At times, Gilani seemed so keen or obsessed with parliamentary proceedings that he wanted to answer the members’ queries all by himself. Unlike his predecessors, of the last decade or so, who didn’t enjoy real powers of a chief executive of the country, Premier Sharif enjoys immense authority. He can safely be termed real chief executive since post-coup 2002 parliament. Yet he is not pushed to grace the National Assembly where he was seen in only one regular session a few months back after attending the initial sessions, naturally compulsory for getting elected as leader of the House.
Senators of the present times might get overwhelmed if Sharif makes his maiden appearance in the Upper House, which seems highly unlikely for now as the current session was prorogued on Monday. Some wonder, even when his key kitchen cabinet members – Ishaq Dar and Pervaiz Rashid – belong to the Upper House, senators might have to stage a mock session on the grassy lawns of the Parliament House to convince Sharif to grace their forum. But even then such an adventure might not produce the desired results. Remember the Aitzaz Ahsan-led protest (mock Senate proceedings) could not bend Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan, known these days in the capital circles as 30 per cent premier, who was the actual target of the whole exercise. Sharif is safely 70 per cent and he could only be convinced politely and obediently. So what’s keeping the premier away from the Parliament for third straight month running even when he and the cabinet were answerable to the same? Saner elements of the government bandwagon believe, instead of shying away from the Parliament, the premier should make the same Houses his second home, and the very base to defend his government and the party. Ineffectiveness and powerlessness of the elected Parliament won’t bode well for his government in the weeks and months to come, they believe.
Remember Qadri’s sit-in in the heart of Islamabad, aided and abetted by invisible powers. Imran Khan, some believe, was convinced not to join Qadri’s caravan at the last minute despite temptations. An election-bruised Khan has already fired warning shots, threatening to launch an agitation campaign if the government tried to use administrative tools to win the upcoming by-elections. Some ruling party bigwigs feel Khan should not be allowed to switch to an agitation mode. He should instead be lured into the Parliament for collective good. What about allowing him the coveted leader of the Opposition slot? Or is it too late? Strange enough, the famous Malik sisters may hold key to the seemingly fragile political truce between Imran and Sharif as far as Khushab by-election is concerned, and if Khan’s warning is to be taken seriously.
Conspiracy theory would have it that Sumaira’s degree case taken up by the former chief justice was one of the reasons which annoyed the then President Musharraf who in those days had prevailed upon all and sundry to give Sumaira a ministry. I was part of the then President-CJP tiff then ended up in a fateful suspension of the top judge in March 2007. Disqualified by the court for holding a fake degree, Sumaira Malik’s son holds the ruling party ticket from the constituency. Sister Ayla is still the key member of Imran’s inner circle. Strangely, she was disqualified from contesting by election from Imran’s Mianwali seat which PTI lost surprisingly. She might get a Senate PTI ticket in 2015 even when her Lower House colleagues would want to see her sitting beside them, may be for charm’s sake.
Realistically, the Parliament without the Lower House in session presents more of a deserted look, even when the Upper House elders usually come up with brainy at-length discussions or points to ponder. But the hustle-bustle, energy associated with the directly elected representatives of the people is only associated with the members of the National Assembly. Now we hear even the regular session of the National Assembly which was to be convened on January 20 has been put on hold by the premier’s office. It may now be convened on January 27. Opposition Leader Khurshid Shah, away to his native town, was keen in knowing why. Minister Sheikh Aftab was clueless.
Even his worst critics, after having seen Sharif going through the mill of democratic struggle and exile in the Musharraf era, and then having received laurels for rejecting temptations to throw out Zardari-led PPP government for five years, expected much more from him in his third stint as premier. After all, not one now dares to doubt Sharif’s skills as an orator, politician and leader – a transformed mould. But isn’t he too obsessed with skills of obedient civil servants who circle him these days? Minus Imran Khan’s rigging allegations which are yet to be proved, here was a general feeling this time around that Sharif had really earned a third-time premiership. But ask PML-N ministers, and most of them would like to sheepishly shy away from this question. The rest will try to argue, show guts to explain the hectic schedule premier and his close circle underwent since June last when they took over the reign of power. The power crisis tops it all, then the messed up, bruised, system of governance under PPP needed a healing Sharif touch. Then come law and order and Pakistani Taliban woes this government is finding very difficult to handle. The list is long.
But the fact of the matter is just seven months into his third stint Premier Sharif and his inner circle have started feeling heat of Pakistan Taliban actions, and find themselves being sucked in this quagmire of invisible and lethal insurgency with each passing day.
Even the right wing political parties, PML-N being part and parcel, are in disarray as the Pakistani Taliban play hide and seek with the government over peace. Imran and his political ally Jamaat-e-Islami are all set to pounce on any opportunity where ruling party falters. Maulanas of JUI – Samiul Haq and Fazlur Rehman – won’t go beyond what their clashing egos allow. PPP and MQM have a clear anti-TTP stance. PML-Q is not a serious player of the ongoing political-cum-security mess.
Sharif needs to gather the pro-talk forces and convince them on “his own” approach, but his close aides fear a positive nod from the Garrison that will get harder as the insurgent attacks mount. Can he do it?