Hollow, unprofitable bluster

  • Mutual recrimination between government and opposition

The ongoing verbal duels within (and without) the floor of the National Assembly between the ruling PTI and combined PML-N-PPP, leading to personal attacks, scenes of mayhem, and walkouts by the aggrieved (or not) party, have unfortunately become a deplorable constant of our political culture. Since the government and opposition are both essential wheels of an efficient parliamentary system, prolonged gridlock between them renders the whole machine immobile, reducing the legislative function into a farce. The unquestioned supremacy of the party leader in our context, and his power to make or break careers, breeds a dubious servility and misplaced sycophancy even among senior sub-leaders, making it easier to manipulate them into toeing a harmful political line, simply to serve personal ends. But while these wasteful, irritating shenanigans may sound reassuring, they are in the end mere empty tirades, as the PTI is running a precariously poised coalition, Shahbaz Sharif, chairman of the parliamentary financial watchdog, Public Accounts Committee, faces a NAB indictment on February 18, while many of the leading protagonists on all sides of the political divide are either mired in daunting corruption cases or harbour embarrassing skeletons in their closets. Political and personal interests merge and drive party leaders towards an endless confrontation.

Naeemul Haque, a founder member of the PTI and special assistant to PM Imran Khan on political affairs, is probably his closest counsellor, keeper of his thoughts. On Saturday, all these concerns were reflected in his statement on the thorny issue that is stuck in the PTI gullet, namely, the anomaly of Shahbaz Sharif being head of PAC while simultaneously undergoing investigation in NAB custody, and using the powerful platform not only to fend off accusations of conflict of interest and avoiding NAB court hearings, but also bashing the PTI government and party leadership. The special assistant, against House regulations, even threatened that Shahbaz Sharif’s production orders for attending future sessions would depend on his signing a code of conduct to behave in a constructive, amicable manner. Responsible national leaders need to take a vacation from their egos, get urgent legislative work done, and provide the common man with some breathing space. After all, they are all skating on thin ice.