In spite of being relatively young and a recent induction to Parliament, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar of the PPP always appears too polite, if you watch his conduct in our deeply polarized environment. But he ignited a strong defiance from the opposition benches, when the PTI government seemed determined to get those amendments in the Anti Money Laundering Bill, hastilyapproved by the Senate as well Tuesday, exactly the day after they had been passed by the national assembly.

After more than two hours of spiteful speeches and legalistic hair splitting, the opposition loudly rejected the same amendments, when they were put for voice voting. Even the syrupy pleadings by Faroogh Nasim, the law minister, failed to avert a huge embarrassment for the government. The legalistic skills of Dr. Babar Awan, the advisor on parliamentary affairs, didn’t help either. 

The government now needs to summon a joint sitting of both houses of parliament to amend the anti-money laundering bill, in a manner that it believes could satisfy the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). But it doesn’t command the majority there. If you go by the logic of visible numbers, the opposition parties rather enjoy a lead of eight votes, when the joint parliamentary sitting is approached for approving a law, rejected by either house of parliament. 

Pakistan surely required to massively revamp a long list of laws, dealing with the issues of terrorism and its financing through dubious means, to ensure getting out of FATF’s grey list. In principle, both the main opposition parties –Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)- had no objections to them. They rather traveled an extra mile to facilitate the speedy passage of a plethora of FATA-related laws.

Their cooperative behavior stunned, rather annoyed, their friends and potential allies among the smaller parties, mostly comprising the elements of religious-right and nationalist pockets from Balochistan. In utter fury, they named the main opposition parties as “collaborators” of the Imran government and kept tauntingly wondering about “compulsions,” presumably forcing these parties to act “obsequious without feeling any shame about it.” With visible blush, most senators from both the main opposition parties tried hard to absorb the shame-inducing taunts.

Instead of helping these senators with grateful and assuaging words, Dr. Wasim Shahzad, the Leader of the House in the Senate, preferred to deliver a scathing speech last week, after the smooth passage of a set of FATF-connected laws.

With reckless fervor he spun and drummed the story that Pakistan was pushed to FATF’s grey list, not due to any “terrorism-connected” issues. “Money laundering” was the key reason and top leaders of the PML-N and PPP had ruthlessly been indulging in it. They transferred their ill-gotten millions to foreign countries and eventually “laundered” them by purchasing expensive properties in high-end areas.

Since he strongly believed that “reckless money laundering” by the Sharifs and Zardaris of this world had pushed Pakistan to FATF’s grey list, as the leader of the house he didn’t feel any need to feel grateful to main opposition parties. By facilitating the smooth passage of FATF-related they had rather “atoned for their sins,” he seemed suggesting.

With a hurt heart, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar referred to the scathing speech of Dr Wasim Shahzad and firmly conveyed the message that he and his party would not support endorsing the NA-approved amendments in the anti-money laundering bill, “Unless the leader of the house tendered a sincere apology for using derogatory remarks against our leaders,” during his speech last week.

Dr. Wasim Shahzad was not willing to concede an inch on this count. He rather remained stuck to the position that he had stated “nothing but truth” during his speech the last week. As if his stern reply were not enough to offend the opposition, Senator Faisal Javed, a known hawk from the PTI benches, also stood to support him. He rather went to the extent of teasingly reminding the PPP senators that considering the age factor, their Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, should still be called “Baby Bilawal.”

The firm and visibly arrogant conduct of Dr. Wasim Shahzad and Faisal Javed made it extremely difficult for relatively cool and pragmatic types, crowding the PML-N and PPP benches in the Senate to stay“cooperative”.  Senator after senator, mainly from the PPP side, stood to demand apology from Wasim Shahzad. Mushahidullah of the PML-N also delivered a biting speech in their support. Instead of smartly creating some space for a win-win resolution, the leader of the house was rather alleged of “physically bullying” some opposition senators.

Faroogh Naseem should have instinctively realized that Tuesday was not the day to deliver for the government. It was better to seek adjournment to get time for discreet management for a possible compromise. But he didn’t appear empowered with a free hand. Prime Minister Imran Khan is believed to have personally approved the idea that his handlers of parliamentary business must put the FATF-related laws before the senate and let the opposition decide how to go about them.

The hawkish pockets of the PTI strongly feel that by “rejecting” FATF-related laws, the number-strong opposition in the senate would affirm their narrative that the PML-N and PPP were not keen to help Pakistan in getting out of FATF’s grey list. In return to their support for the approval of these laws, they desperately demand ‘relief’ for their leaders, currently facing serious charges of corruption and money laundering. Some of these hawks also imagine that the opposition’s “selfish behavior” on this matter would also annoy and enrage institutions, responsible for the national security.

Perhaps to rub in the same point, Dr. Babar Awan clearly told the house that India had been dying to push Pakistan to FATF’s “black list.” If it succeeds, Pakistan will not be able to cope with its economic difficulties. All attempts to restore and later push our economy to the road of stability and prosperity would rather go down the drain.

Being an experienced diplomat and a politician, Ms. Sherry Rehman of the PPP was fully conversant with Pakistan’s quandary vis-à-vis FATF. Keeping the same in mind, she had played a key role in facilitating the previous passage of FATF-related laws, almost with consensus.

But even she felt forced to shout, “Enough is enough” Tuesday evening and clearly told the government that it could not get away with consistently “insulting our leaders,” even after getting “our support on issues of utmost national interest.”

Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar also kept pressing the minister to “own” the list of “proscribed” persons and organizations, our Foreign Office had announced some days ago. “Not one leader of the mainstream opposition parties,” he stressed, had been named there, denying the government promoted story that money laundering, allegedly committed by the PML-N or PPP leaders, had pushed Pakistan to FATF’s grey list.

The ministers were simply not willing to consider their anguish, somewhat seriously, and we have certainly returned to more acrimonious polarization after the Senate proceedings of Tuesday.