ISLAMABAD - The halls and corridors of the National Assembly were filled with anticipation Friday. Lawmakers expected that the intervention by the powerful military would help in resolving the crippling deadlock that has paralysed any sense of normalcy in the federal capital.
Prime Minister Sharif stepped into the hall of the lower house and was immediately greeted with thumping of desks by members. Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, aware of the paucity of time on Friday, quickly allowed Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan to make a speech that would shed light on the ongoing political crisis and the role of the military in resolving it.
But Nisar was in no hurry. Instead of immediately jumping on the crucial situation at hand, which has put the whole country at tenterhooks for over two weeks, the interior minister went on a long and rather tiring narration of the past - starting from the very first day the protesters left Lahore on August 15, their subsequent breaching of the Red Zone on August 19 and the dismal condition at the Constitution Avenue.
The lawmakers had expected the prime minister to make a speech but Nisar’s long and repetitive sermon consumed more than 50 minutes, leaving just less than ten minutes for the opposition leader Syed Khurhid Shah to make his own statement.
Before concluding his speech, Nisar finally broached the issue that everyone wanted to hear about. He claimed that it was the government that asked the military to facilitate talks with Imran and Qadri.
He also revealed that Qadri and Imran had requested Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif to intervene and facilitate the negotiations between the government and the marchers.
Curiously, he was handed a note, quickly jotted down by the prime minister himself. Nisar then altered his train of thoughts and assured the house that the government had not abdicated its principled position and would negotiate with the protesters in the light of a resolution presented in the house on August 21 that was unanimously passed by the house, rejecting the resignation of prime minister and other unconstitutional demands of the marchers.
But if there was one man who lit up the Friday proceedings, it was Khurshid Shah. Shah and several other key opposition leaders had learnt through television that the government had asked the army chief to intervene and put an end to the sit-ins and were surprised albeit relieved to hear that Nisar named Qadri and Imran as those who had requested military intervention in the crisis.
In a speech that was inspiring as well as fiery, Khurshid told the prime minister to stay firm in his commitment to democracy and constitution. With his loud voice loud, Khurshid dared the protesters to break the security cordons and come inside the parliament. There is no need to fear them, he quoted the prime minister as saying, “Let them come.”
“Burn the parliament. Burn the supreme court,” Shah continued as lawmakers thumped their desks in appreciation and approval.
“But we will not let you burn the constitution,” he said, holding a copy of the country’s constitution in his hand.
Suddenly, emotions ran high in the house. The prime minister who had been sitting with a rather grim face suddenly seemed buoyed up.
And, then the prime minister stood up impromptu, and commended Shah’s rousing speech. “He said what was also in my heart,” he said.
The prime minister said he can sacrifice ten governments but will never compromise on his principles. He also went on to say, “Neither the army requested to mediate nor we asked them for it.”
Little did he know that the clarification would soon set off a new set of controversy and both Qadri and Khan would accuse the government of lying through their teeth.
But till that moment, the house was still reverberating with the electric speech of Khurshid Shah, whose passionate words had inspired the prime minister to make his unscheduled short speech.
Soon after the session was adjourned till Monday, both opposition members and PML-N lawmakers started whispering to each other lambasting the interior minister for his unnecessary and controversial statements at a time when the government was near to get rid of the political agitation.
“The role of our interior minister has been mysterious, if not doubtful, since the day when marches of PTI and PAT kicked off. His today’s statement has unleashed a new crisis for the already stressed government,” a federal minister told candidly this reporter, seeking not to be named.
Speaker Ayaz Sadiq personally rushed to the chamber of Opposition Leader Khurshid Shah and handed him the CD of his speech. “It was one of the best dialogues of his political career,” the speaker said to the opposition leader.