The scuffle in the Senate over the Prime Minister’s recent remarks was yet another deplorable departure from parliamentary etiquette, and a poor reflection of the attitudes of the members of Senate with regards to the treatment of their peers. The argument broke out when Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) senator, Maulana Attaur Rehman criticized Imran Khan’s comments on a religious matter and quickly turned into a war of words between opposition and treasury benches. Maulana Attaur Rehman and many others in JUI-F need to be reminded that their jobs do not entail religious policing of fellow members of the house, but instead to discuss critical issues that the country faces.

Bringing up the issue of the Prime Minister’s remarks at a time when discussing the budget is imperative for the collective national interest and the subject of debate in the house was unnecessary and a needless attempt at playing the religion card to throw off any other proceedings of the house. Lawmakers in every party have relied on this tactic to turn the people against a particular party or politician when it suits them best. Most recently, we saw this tactic being used by former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and one would think that the many Faizabad protests by Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan and other extremist groups would have taught the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), but that does not seem to be the case.

It is sad that both the government and the opposition require consistent reminders to do their jobs and prioritise on actual government work instead of trading meaningless barbs. This budget, with the weight of the IMF bailout, the rupee devaluation and declining investment, stands to make or break Pakistan’s economy in both the short and long run, and yet our representatives have allowed for a full week to pass before debate on the budget even started. Both Senators and Members of the National Assembly have a pressing job that gets neglected in the bid to score political points and sloganeering. Pakistani politicians should be reminded that this role of their profession should be left to the election campaigns, while the first four years of government should be spent with their noses to the ground in the attempts to steer the country out of the many crises it is currently beset by.

The Senate needs to let questions of theology lie – especially since they always end up being blown out of proportion and flare tensions in the country – and focus on the budget and the economic progress in the country. If opposition members have nothing constructive to add in the debate, they should cede this space to other lawmakers who are willing to engage in this discussion.