Even after employing all possible tricks of pleading and bullying, both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker miserably failed to maintain order in the national assembly on Wednesday. During an unusually long sitting, they also announced breaks for three times. Emissaries were used for seeking peace during these breaks. Nothing seemed helping. In the end, the Speaker decided to act deaf. Disregarding the relentless chaos around him, he let the government two momentous laws approved by voice voting.

Both these laws, passed in desperate haste, were primarily designed to please the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Some directions of the United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC) were also executed through one law. No one from the ministerial benches cared to explain the details of these laws, however, and the need of literally bulldozing them without holding any discussion.

Many people are made to believe that Pakistan required these laws to be passed on SOS basis. Delay in their passage could help India to push us to FATF’s blacklist. We desperately needed to avert the dire consequences of it.

Shah Mehmud Qureshi, the foreign minister, had surprised all of us with a dramatic entry in the house Tuesday evening. He instantly took the floor to deliver a very long speech. The operative part of it aggressively promoted the narrative that the opposition was playing hard to get. It remained selfishly obsessive to extract relief for its allegedly corrupt leaders through softening the laws, empowering the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to effectively take on the corrupt of this world.

In short, the foreign minister painted the whole opposition as a crowd of self-serving blackmailers, using its numerical edge in the Senate as leverage to push not “the Imran government but rather the state of Pakistan” in deep trouble. “Blinded with vested interest,” they were alleged to be refusing to appreciate that the “supreme national interest” demanded the speedy passage of FATF-demanded laws.

The opposition was denied the chance of responding to his narrative, which greatly ruined the image of both the main opposition parties. Immediately after his reputation demolishing speech, the house was adjourned.

From the outset of Thursday sitting, the opposition wanted to tell its side of the story. Khawaja Asif, who acts like the opposition leader in the absence of Shahbaz Sharif, managed to get the floor to deliver a lengthy speech. He kept insisting that the opposition was more than willing to help the government for speedy passage of FATF-connected laws. It only expressed reservations to certain extraordinarily punitive clauses that the government could use against its opponents.

Pakistan’s political history, the PML-N leader kept recalling, was replete with such attempts. Even the Imran government “blatantly” abused the Anti-Narcotic Laws to get one of its very vocal critics, Rana Sanaullah Khan. Khawaja Asif also felt deeply offended and provoked by claiming that during his speech of Tuesday, Shah Mehmud Qureshi had recklessly violated the norms of propriety.

 

He claimed that the Speaker had invited a nine-member subcommittee, representing both sides of the aisle, to his home to “discreetly discuss the NAB-empowering law, clause by clause.” It had been clearly decided that the details of this meeting would not be revealed to public. Yet, the foreign minister selectively brought them into the open to promote a narrative, which proclaimed as if the opposition was being indifferent to “supreme national interests” and obsessed to protect “the corrupt,” crowding its ranks.

 

The reputation-damaging speech of Shah Mehmud Qureshi provoked Khawaja Asif to take on his person with rude remarks and scandalous stories. He portrayed the Makhdoom of Multan as a “greedy parasite, amassing millions with money and gifts offered to the graves of his ancestors.” Doing this, he often hit below the belt. And Qureshi wanted to react with a “point of personal explanation.”

 

But the opposition was not willing to listen to him. They blocked his launch with ceaseless heckling. That infuriated the otherwise very soft and friends-to-all type Shah Mehmud Qureshi. Standing akimbo, he kept shouting that no one from the opposition would be allowed to utter even a word, if his explanation was not heard. A large group of ruling party backbenchers furnished spirited support to him. The house was to be adjourned to cool things.

 

Raja Pervez Ashraf, a former prime minister, was given the floor to tell his side of the story from the PPP benches, when the proceedings resumed. Meantime, Maulana Asad Mehmud, the son and political heir of Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat-e-Ulma-e-Islam (JUI-F), also wanted to express his position.

 

The ruling party backbenchers specifically targeted him by shouting rude remarks. This infuriated the JUI MNAs. All of them left their seats to huddle around the Speaker’s desk. They also chanted slogans to hit the person of Imran Khan. That required another adjournment. But the ruling party backbenchers were yet not willing to let Asad Mehmud take the floor.

 

That convinced the Speaker Asad Qaisar that restoring order in the house was just not possible Wednesday. He invited Dr. Babar Awan, the minister of parliamentary affairs, to start reading the clauses of proposed laws to initiate the process of passing them, there and then. After their passage with voice voting, he prorogued the house.

 

The proceedings of Wednesday clearly showed that the Imran government was determined to get the FATF-connected laws, without softening the NAB-empowering law. But the question remains how it would handle the Senate. The opposition parties command the brute majority in upper house of parliament. FATF-related laws could easily be ‘rejected’ there. The opposition has to think twice for doing this, however.

 

Like it or not, with a vigorous speech in the national assembly Tuesday, Shah Mehmud Qureshi had certainly built the perception that the “supreme national interest” of Pakistan required the speedy passage of FATF-related laws. It had certainly pushed the opposition to an extremely difficult position. By “rejecting” these laws, already approved by the national assembly, the opposition senators would rather look eluding and disregarding ‘patriotic compulsions.’

 

Their rejection would also help the Imran government to promote the feeling that the sole obsession of seeking relief for their “corrupt leaders,” motivates opposition senators. They hardly have any other agenda.

 

Objectively speaking, some of the opposition reservations regarding the draconian clauses of FATF-related laws look legitimate. In the specific context of Pakistan, where the governments habitually feel tempted to fix their opponents by invoking laws, primarily designed to confront the menace of narcotics and terrorism, these reservations sound doubly valid. But the opposition hardly has any space to appropriately promote its side of the story.

 

An overwhelming majority of our people doesn’t watch the live streaming of parliamentary proceedings. Due to ‘financial crunch,’ almost each of our 24/7 channels feels forced to please the government by allotting dominating space to government-furnished narrative. The opposition also remains too weak on social media. A huge crowd of “YouTube influencers” rather projects its leaders as “hardened money launderers.” Shah Mehmud Qureshi has also ignited the ‘patriotic heat’ against it, through his speech of Tuesday.

 

In spite of being present in both the houses of parliament in numerically strong manner, the opposition has so far failed to cohesively use the parliamentary proceedings for promoting its narrative. The sole option left to the main opposition parties now is to hold a series of public rallies in all the major cities to promote its message. But COVID-19 has firmly crippled the said possibility. For many months to come, it seems, the opposition could but sulk in isolation and utter frustration.