After entering the Parliament Building from its Gate Number-5, first comes the chamber on your left that is allotted to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as head of the Human Rights Parliamentary Committee.

A big crowd of reporters was standing outside it. I could instantly guess that Asif Ali Zardari was sitting inside and colleagues were waiting for sound bites from him.

After standing with them for more than ten minutes, I decided to take advantage of being a “senior” and the security personnel let me enter, after appropriate identification and approval from inside.

With a big smile and warm embrace, the former president welcomed me. I sat on a vacant chair on his left.

The room was crowded with his children and senior PPP leaders. The time and place were not suited for a formal interview. After polite and informal chitchat, I opted to leave.

Close to my leaving, though, I did tease him by stating that trying to extract ”hardcore news” from him was an exercise in futility.

After reaching the President’s office in 2008, he took no time to turn unbearably discreet and secretive. He had not changed, even after six years of leaving the said office. I needed to roam about to collect material for this column.

You can’t get away with provocative taunts with him. With a sadistic smile, he instantly told me that I too had lost the courage to print “the news,” he would give.

The colleagues standing outside were still not willing to believe that I had failed to extract a juicy story from him.

Without any exception, all of them strongly suspected that the Speaker National Assembly signed the production order to ensure his presence in the budget session, thanks to “some deal.”

I am not sure about a real or an imagined “deal.” But Speaker Asad Qaiser surely surprised me by signing the order for his presence at 10:55 pm Wednesday night and he certainly didn’t do it on his own.

The decision to let the former president attend the assembly session while in NAB’s custody clearly required the prime ministerial approval.

To be honest, I did not expect the said approval at all.

For around a week, Prime Minister Imran Khan had been repeatedly telling his ministers and party people that Asif Ali Zardaris and Shehbaz Sharifs of this world must be treated like “hardened criminals.” They don’t deserve any mercy or protocol for “ruthlessly looting and plundering” the national resources during their turns in the government.

He was specifically annoyed with the assembly rule that empowered the National Assembly Speaker to order the presence of an elected member to house proceedings, even if facing deep probe for serious charges of corruption under NAB custody or spending time in jail.

“How can we let criminals come to an elected house and deliver windy speeches,” he often wondered loudly with utmost disgust.

Not only the corruption-hating base of the PTI but also a huge group of “law abiding” urbanites felt extremely resentful about the practice that allowed “the corrupt politicians” to savor VIP treatment, even while in NAB’s custody or in jail.

The PTI never dared to delete the rule that empowers the National Assembly Speaker to ensure the presence of an elected member in house business.

Aleem Khan, a very senior PTI leader from Lahore, had been attending the Punjab Assembly proceedings while in NAB’s custody.

Rumors in Islamabad keep claiming that “soon” the former Chief Minister KP, Pervez Khattak, currently holding the portfolio of a prestigious ministry, defence, might also need the Speaker National Assembly to sign a “production order” for him.

No doubt, the PPP legislators continued to mount tremendous pressure on the National Assembly Speaker to ensure the presence of Asif Ali Zardari in the budget session. After staging protesting pickets outside his office in parliament building, they also went to his home in the ministers’ enclave in a big rally comprising almost each PPP member of the National Assembly and the Senate. That was not enough to motivate Asad Qaiser, however.

Prime Minister required hard selling to change his mind and the PTI handlers of the parliamentary business felt the SOS need for it due to sheer dynamics of the budget-passing compulsions.

The PTI on its own does not have enough numbers to get its first budget passed with a clear majority. It needs additional votes from “allies” like Akhtar Mengal’s BNP, the PML-Q of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat and the MQM.

From day one of Asif Ali Zardari’s arrest by the NAB, Akhtar Mengal was standing in support of the demand that production orders should be issued for him. Thanks to diligent pursuance, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also convinced the MQM to sign a petition to the Speaker asking him to sign the production order.

Extremely subtle but potentially significant support came from the PML-Q camp, though.

Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, the former chief minister of Punjab, is holding the office of the Speaker of the provincial assembly these days. He took no time to ask for the presence of Hamza Shehbaz Sharif during proceedings of the house chaired by him.

The PTI handlers of parliamentary business seriously suspect that by behaving “accommodative” towards the opposition in the Punjab Assembly, the crafty Chaudhry from Gujrat had been steadily setting a game to replace Osman Buzdar as the chief minister.

Asad Qaiser could not disregard the “precedent “set by him by ensuring the presence of Hamza Shehbaz Sharif for the house proceedings of the Punjab Assembly.

The NAB would also not want to look “biased towards Sindh Assembly” by not letting Ms Faryal Talpur, a sister of Asif Ali Zardari also under NAB custody these days, attend its budget session.

To my mind, there is no “deal” that facilitated the coming of Asif Ali Zardari to the National Assembly. Simply, the dynamics of budget-passing compulsions persuaded the prime minister to have second thoughts and let Asad Qaiser exercise his “discretionary powers.”

After the smooth passage of its first budget by the end of June, the ruling party may instantly revert to its hawkish position, vis-à-vis politicians it seriously takes as “hardened criminals” and “looters and plunderers” of national resources.

Before finishing, I have to state that the media limelight that Asif Ali Zardari snatched by reaching the National Assembly from NAB’s custody stole the attention away that Asad Umer genuinely deserved for delivering a speech on the first budget of the Imran Government Thursday.

Since the advent of the Imran Government in August 2018, Asad Umer had been savoring tremendous autonomy to pull Pakistan’s economy away from heading dire straits. In spite of introducing not one but two mini budgets, he could not succeed, however.

In the end, the Imran Government succumbed to a tightening agenda that the IMF had been suggesting for Pakistan. Dr Hafeez Shaikh replaced Omer to prepare a budget for meeting “prior conditions” set by the ultimate monitor of the global economy. To ensure its firm execution, Dr Raza Baqir also left his post in Egypt to take over command and control of the State Bank of Pakistan.

Although yet not willing to question and demolish the “IMF-made budget,” the former finance minister did sound extremely bitter through his speech Thursday. His nuanced speech deserved comprehensive projection and analysis. But Asif Ali Zardari ruined its impact.