Imran Khan spent a major portion of his first speech in the Senate talking about a matter that is close to the hearts of many Muslims, but far away from the realms of immediate priority. The latter half was spent reiterating some of the core tenants of his government’s policies. Where the speech lacked in impact, it made up for in significance. A Prime Minister present, participating, and presenting himself as answerable to the Senate is an image we do not get to see often.
Another first is seeing Imran Khan come up against his first substantive issue in the Parliament – blasphemy. Before him, the Senate had already – rightly –passed a resolution to record a protest against the “announcement by the leader of Dutch Freedom Party and Parliamentarian Geert Wilders to hold a competition of blasphemous caricatures. The Dutch politician is notorious for his inciting and inflammatory remarks against Muslims, and this contest is being held precisely because it is a provocation. His actions need to be roundly condemned – and they were.
For his part, Imran Khan’s insistence that this matter will be bought up at the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) will certainly balm any inflamed tempers, but, as he soon admitted himself, this is not likely to have much effect. While the first half was devoted to chasing a goal that was self-admittedly impossible, one had hoped that the discussion could have provided at least some positives – after all the subject of blasphemy is a important one, and our nation had suffered an event charged with religious intolerance just a few days ago.
Alas, that was not to be. While Mr Khan had ample time to spare for blasphemy occurring continents away, he could not spare a few moments for the deaths and destruction caused by an overactive blasphemy law in Pakistan.
Perhaps he has missed a golden opportunity. Here was a chance for Imran Khan to courageously take the mantle of leadership, in the Senate, on a thorny but exigent subject, to be the leader of all Pakistanis. Yet he balked. A token condemnation of mob violence and religious intolerance would have sufficed at the very least; but even that was not forthcoming.
With no new details or policies to present, Mr Khan reiterated his government’s austerity drive and his pledge to be answerable to the Senate; both commendable initiatives. His brief appearance gave the Senate new avenues to do what it is supposed to do; to hold the executive accountable
With this the new Prime Minister wrapped up his first speech in the upper house – no feathers ruffled, no knots undone.