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In the midst of crisis, Parliament speaks with one voice

Updated September 02, 2014

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Nawaz, Hashmi embrace at the end of the session

In any Shakespearean tragedy, a soliloquy signifies a crucial point in the play: it usually comes when the hero is on the verge of committing to an act that will define him for the rest of his on-stage life.

So it was in Parliament on Tuesday that Javed Hashmi, the estranged Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader, delivered a speech of his own that certainly put to rest all speculation about what side he is on.

Arriving in the National Assembly during a speech by Maulana Fazlur Rehman to a tremendous reception, Hashmi minced no words during his allotted speaking time on the floor of the house. He clarified that despite his differences with the party’s high command, he was still PTI’s democratically elected president.

At times Hashmi's speech sounded almost like a history lesson, as he recounted key points from the past: the secession of Bangladesh; his own time in prison; the time he advised Benazir Bhutto against a safe-passage deal with General Musharraf; and, previous Nawaz regimes where, he said, the current PM had ample time to work for the country’s betterment but failed to do so.

His castigation of the prime minister for his aloofness from parliament rang true for most members and one could see that he meant it as his hands shook with rage (or possibly the physical strain – given his frail health).

He defended Imran Khan and praised his ability to mobilise the youth. He also maintained that the PM should listen to lawmakers, referring to the premier’s reputation for having his own way – before announcing his resignation from Parliament.

Before the main event, however, the impassioned Aitzaz Ahsan took the government to task, moving from parables to specifics. He made it clear that his party is continuing to stand by the ruling party at great personal cost.

The speech from the opposition’s side is technically supposed to come from the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. But, perhaps taking advantage of his oratorical skills, Aitzaz was entrusted the task of making the opposition’s views known.

He recounted their many sins, from Model Town to administrative arrogance and urged the treasury benches to “do some soul-searching”.

Other speeches, such as the ones from Fazlur Rehman, the MQM’s Khalid Siddiqui and Mehmood Achakzai, were a mixed bag of criticism for both the government and the protesting parties, in roughly equal measure.

Chaudhry Nisar, however, was his droning self as he opened proceedings on Tuesday, repeating the same speech he has been making over the past few weeks. Indeed, his tale of the protesters’ broken promises was only interrupted when he stopped to apologise to the media for the police highhandedness.

While the sincerity of the apology may be the stuff of speculation, it was clear that the interior minister was quite anxious and often slid over to an equally pensive PM during other speeches on the floor of the house.

For a joint-sitting, the attendance in the house was quite thin and among the notable absentees was also the chairman of the Senate.

But the session ended on a conciliatory note, as Nawaz Sharif shook hands with Javed Hashmi following the latter’s tirade against the ruling party, indicating that there is still a great deal of mutual respect in both their hearts for each other.

But the real question is, will Parliamentary pleasantries translate into practical measures?

Read the transcript of the speech and updates from Islamabad protests here