In the dead of winter, Islamabad can test your staying power – sometimes to a freezing point. But politics isn’t necessarily driven by weather of the moment; indeed, a fine contrast is evident in the national parliament currently, where three major political forces are boiling the pot.
But at least it is in the parliament, not outside of it, which is what had the two of three – namely, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and its predecessor, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – fretting over an intervention that would send them back to Square One.
Their fears stemmed from the politics of the third party, the opposition Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI), which has largely preferred to run its shop in the street after claiming it was done with trying to get a fair hearing from a slew of national institutions that it says failed to pass muster.
The jury is still out on how fair the party’s call is, but the general impression in the intelligentsia is that the PTI’s cause would have been better served in calibrating the parliamentary space to augment its case – even if it took to the streets.
The PTI’s return to the parliament, once again, is therefore welcome, even though the action has expectedly invited a round of both sarcasm and cynicism surrounding what is being dubbed yet another U-turn on the part of Imran Khan, the party chairman. He is often dubbed ‘U-turn Khan’ by his detractors for flip-flops that rarely escape the roving eye of the prime time commentariat.
That of course, is one way to look at it. His party and supporters believe the latest return to the parliament is a logical consequence of having tried all available legal options to hold Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accountable for the properties that his children admitted to acquiring in the so-called Panama Papers, and which the PTI alleges is ill-gotten.
A bench of the Supreme Court is currently seized of the matter, but after more than one month of hearing into a case that has hogged the national limelight, the perception that the defendants will sail through is gaining traction, especially after the incumbent chief justice, who is reaching superannuation later this month, decided to adjourn the proceedings till the New Year and even decreed that the case would be heard anew once his successor takes charge.
The PTI was banking on the current bench to hand a verdict and outrightly rejected an offer to form a judicial commission to investigate the case – even though the party had itself all along been demanding it – as it now senses it would be a time consuming exercise that would be used by the defendants – the ruling party, by extension — as a ploy to run rings around the investigation in which there really has been no solid evidence presented by either party to establish their respective cases so far.
A frustrated Imran Khan while admitting his disappointment at the apex court go-slow also pointedly referred to the speech made by Khurshid Shah, a PPP stalwart and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly, on the floor of the House regarding the ‘loyalty’ of the incoming top adjudicator.
Taking a pot shot at the PML-N during a requisitioned parliamentary session, Shah said the ruling party was creating the impression that it would now have “an own chief justice” to preside over the Supreme Court. The PTI chairman added to this the allegation that the PML-N was cultivating the same vibe about the new army chief as well.
Talking to the media, Khan contextualised a tweet of Maryam Nawaz, the PM’s daughter, whose motive he questioned for suggesting an “end to every storm” after the Supreme Court decided to adjourn the Panama Papers case to January.
While the PTI chairman himself did not return to the National Assembly – and vowed not to until the prime minister made himself available to clarify his stance – the party re-entry was not without fireworks. In fact, what transpired exceeded the anticipation of a colourful spectacle, when its members surrounded the immediate space ahead of the speaker’s chair and tore the agenda of the session when he did not allow them the floor in favour of a point of order given to the ruling party member.
Led by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the PTI’s parliamentary party leader, they raised slogans against Ayaz Sadiq, the speaker, alleging that he was biased and his conduct betrayed his affiliation with the ruling party. The speaker tried in vain to persuade them to return to their seats before leaving the House.
Calm was restored somewhat the next day, when Qureshi was given the floor and his demand of apology from Saad Rafique, a ruling party parliamentarian, who had called the PTI members “hooligans” the previous day was acceded to. The speaker however, stood by his ruling that since the case was sub judice he would not allow debate on the privilege motion moved by the PTI.
In the war of words that ensued between the ruling PML-N and its arch rival PTI both inside the House and out, it provided the struggling PPP with an opportunity to look ‘good’ once again and effortlessly, regain parliamentary mojo. The PPP had until now been making largely empty threats to force the Sharif government to accede to its reform demands that, many pundits suggest, is little more than a ruse for political concessions at the expense of the PTI, which the PML-N government treats as the real McCoy in terms of rivalry.
Both the PTI and PPP are once again hinting at rallying forces over the Panama Papers controversy. But more than trying to reach a conclusion in the case on merit, it appears that in the changed scenario where apparently the two important pillars of the state – the military establishment and the judiciary – want to stay aloof, unlike in the past, this is more likely a compromise bid to weaken the Sharif government for a better shot at the next general elections due in 2018.

* The writer is Community Editor.
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