Any person who has followed the progress of Naya Pakistan this week cannot help but be disappointed by the progress so far. The parliamentary session to elect the Leader of the House was total chaos. Obviously the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) during Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan’s speech was designed to make things as hard for him as possible. He is a man completely unschooled in parliamentary politics, especially the peculiar variety that is found in Pakistan. This makes his attempt to compare himself to our Quaid slightly facetious, for Jinnah was nothing if not a great parliamentarian, debater and legislator.
Therefore, the PM’s container-style speech was an utter disappointment. Heckling, while condemnable, is nothing new in Pakistani politics. The PM should still have made a speech that would assuage the feelings of those in the opposition who feel that they have been victims of rigging.We also wanted to hear something about the rights of women and minorities, two areas, which have been flagged as major concerns about this government. Nothing of the sort was forthcoming from the PM. Though we did get threats and name calling.
It was left to 29-year old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to give the House a lesson in parliamentary debate. To PPP, his maiden speech was reminiscent of his mother and grandfather. Those who know their history would bear with my opinion that in tenor and its sharp retort it was reminiscent of another maiden speech in the Imperial Legislative Council made in early 1910 by Jinnah himself, who was in his early 30s then. Ending his speech with the term “Prime Minister Select”, a term I believe I coined for our PM to be (as he was then) a few months before election, was an act of pure genius. That bit of his speech seems to have gone over the head of our PM,who was seen banging his desk in approval.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi tried to salvage the situation but the problem with Mr Qureshi is that despite his attempt to copy Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s style of speech, he comes across as quite insincere and even comical. What is interesting though is his declaration that the parties sitting to the right, PML-N and PPP, had been tried, tested and rejected. Actually neither PML-N nor PPP were ever allowed a free hand at governing. We hope that it changes with PTI, though one would not hold one’s breath. Besides Mr Qureshi should know the real exigencies that exist in Pakistan for he was part of both those rejected parties at different times. Now he shall become the Foreign Minister (FM) of Pakistan but let us not forget that the last time he held this position in the PPP government he was rabidly attacked for having negotiated the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Interestingly, Mr Qureshi was also PPP’s nominee for PM in 2002 against MMA’s MaulanaFazlur Rahman and PML-Q’s ZafrullahJamali. Imran Khan, then the sole representative of his party, voted for Fazlur Rahman calling him an honest man as opposed to Mr Qureshi and the eventual PM Jamali. How short are our memories and how fickle we are as a people!
Mr Qureshi is hardly the only old face in Naya Pakistan. In Punjab the new speaker is former CM and Deputy PM Pervez Elahi. He is a seasoned politician but the irony is that Imran Khan had denounced him as the biggest dacoit in Punjab.The new nominee for the CM in Punjab we are told is a gentleman called Usman Buzdar. Not only is he fabulously rich but has also been found guilty of being involved in the murder of six people. He paid the Diyat under Qisas-e-Diyat Ordinance 1978 and is now going to lead Naya Punjab. Of course, until two months before the election, he was a member of PML-N. Many of the members of the new Cabinet are also former members of Musharraf’s military government. Amongst them,Zubaida Jalal was very capable. She was one of the finest ministers of education in our history, even though she served under a military dictator. Strangely or perhaps aptly, she has become the Minister of Defence Production. It is unclear how her experience makes her suitable for the position. Of course, she was also investigated by the FIA at one point and is said to be one of the richest people in Balochistan. How that came about is a bit of a mystery.
Shaikh Rasheed, the man who Imran Khan famously said he wouldn’t hire as his peon, now comes in as the Minister of Railways. Last time he held this position was under General Musharraf. Dr FehmidaMirza, who was the Speaker of the National Assembly from 2008-2013, has been anointed Minister of Inter-provincial Coordination and Dr ShireenMazari who other than being a PTI leader is a leading Defence Analyst has been given the portfolio of Human Rights. While one is glad that there is some representation of women in the Cabinet, their portfolios seem mismatched. Meanwhile there are no Non-Muslims in the cabinet. It is a bit of a tradition to have at least a token minority minister, if for nothing else to make minorities feel that they too have some part in governing this country.
So far, all Naya Pakistan has offered is a subtle but visible slide into majoritarian fascism. Let us hope week two will prove us wrong.