After an almost two-month hiatus because of the Covid-19 pandemic, parliament convened after some difficulty and amidst concerns about the safety of parliamentarians during the sessions. The expectation generally may have been that the opposing sides of t
After an almost two-month hiatus because of the Covid-19 pandemic, parliament convened after some difficulty and amidst concerns about the safety of parliamentarians during the sessions. The expectation generally may have been that the opposing sides of the political divide in both houses would soberly adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) agreed before the sessions were called. Instead, many members were seen violating the facemasks, social distancing, etc., protocols. But that was only a trailer of what followed. As usual, throwing the seriousness of the situation facing the country to the winds, a business-as-usual fracas was witnessed. Although there are a few villains of the piece in this sorry tale, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi outdid himself in both the National Assembly (NA) and Senate in throwing spiked barbs at the opposition in general, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in particular. For reasons that are no longer so obscure, the controversy started by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) federal government regarding the 18th Amendment got unnecessarily dragged into the melee. It was left to Shah Mahmood Qureshi to try and pour oil on the troubled waters through the assurance from the floor of the Senate on May 12, 2020 that his government had no plans to scrap the 18th Amendment. He only left room for revisiting the 'weak' parts of the Amendment, by which is meant essentially the distribution of divisible pool finances between the Centre and the provinces, an issue related less to the Amendment and more to the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award. To cap the argument, Shah Mahmood Qureshi reminded the opposition that the PTI did not enjoy a two-thirds majority and therefore the opposition need not worry on this score. While he was at pains to refute the opposition's argument that there had been no discrimination against Sindh in disbursements to combat the pandemic, he could not resist repeating the canard he had flung earlier in the NA about the PPP having been reduced from a federal-oriented to a provincial party exploiting the 'Sindh Card'.
Inevitably, this acted as the proverbial red rag to the PPP bull and Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari who used his press conference to question this categorisation and charge. He was supported by PPP Senate leader Sherry Rehman, who took Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the federal government to task for missing out on the words of unity and healing the country needed to hear. She argued that the provinces (particularly Sindh) had been left to fend for themselves, thereby depriving the country of a uniform national strategy to tackle the situation. Both Rehman and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Zafar-ul-Haq of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lambasted the federal government for its confusion, mixed messages and decision to ease the lockdown against expert medical advice.
Be that as it may, for the citizens of Pakistan, the 'debates' in the NA and Senate remained within the bounds of the usual squabbling and point scoring of the two sides of the political divide. This would prove highly disappointing for the people expecting their elected representatives to rise above themselves and conduct a serious discussion on the pandemic. If all parliament can do is exhibit the usual run-of-the-mill exchanges and point scoring across the aisles, some may be forgiven for wondering what the point of calling parliament back into session was.