The tragedy of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech to the Parliament on Thursday was that most of it was constructive. The Premier addressed many of the important problems the country has been facing in the last two years or so, especially now. On the floor of the National Assembly, he talked about the government’s policies regarding COVID-19 – a problem that is not being given enough priority by the government. He reiterated again his government’s different approach towards a lockdown and on the importance of following protocols. He spoke at length on all key national issues, including locusts, foreign policy and the ongoing accountability process in the country, and presented an overview of the 22-month performance of his government. Even if his explanations on these topics may sound familiar, it was important that the Premier address and acknowledge the issues in Parliament and clear up ambiguity about it.

Unfortunately, if that was the Prime Minister’s intention with his speech, he missed the mark due to a largely unnecessary comment he made regarding Osama Bin Laden’s death. While discussing the country’s relations with the United States, Imran Khan stirred a new controversy in the country when he, either intentionally or as a slip of tongue, called slain top Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden a ‘Shaheed’ (martyr). Thus most press and coverage related to the Premier’s speech has been associated with this comment only and has prompted an unnecessary and irrelevant discussion on Osama Bin Laden and his actions.

For an address to be effective in the parliament, optics is as important a consideration as substance. A speech can be as informative and helpful as possible, but a controversial comment or a glaring error can overshadow its utility in its entirety. By now, Imran Khan should be aware that his comments regarding terrorists are scrutinised around the world and impact the country’s international perception. This controversy should have been avoided and it is hoped that the Prime Minister will be more careful with his words.