MONDAY’S National Assembly session was not the civilian leadership’s finest hour. In fact, the proceedings inside the house of representatives offered ample evidence of why the political class in general is held in such contempt, and why the public so readily embraces narratives that undermine democracy. The session was the first one after the federal budget had been presented, an occasion normally used to debate the various proposals in this critical financial plan. Certainly, there have been times when such a discussion has been reduced to a formality — that was the case last year, for example, when there was only a lame-duck opposition in the Lower House following the PTI legislators’ en masse resignations. This year too, despite the dire economic crisis engulfing Pakistan, only two lawmakers took part in the budget debate. Instead of proving themselves even halfway equal to the job they have been elected for, almost all the lawmakers present devoted their energies elsewhere, making clear their disconnect with the bread-and-butter issues that affect the general public.
And so, reducing the budget to a footnote, the Lower House proceeded to adopt a resolution calling upon the government to immediately initiate proceedings under the Pakistan Army Act against those involved in vandalism of military installations on May 9. Moved by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, the resolution does not name Imran Khan or his party, the PTI, but says there was evidence proving the involvement of “a political party and its chief” in the violent protest “which caused irreparable loss to the state and its institutions”. No one can disagree on the need for those involved in the disturbances that day to be brought to justice. But for the minister to use his position and the occasion to vociferously make the demand for such accountability, that too in non-civilian forums, appears unnecessary and out of proportion. Mr Asif, however, is not alone. It is a manifestation of the politicians’ skewed priorities — arguably even more pronounced in the wake of the events of May 9 — that many politicians tend towards such exaggerated gestures to demonstrate their allegiance to the security arm of the state. The civilian leadership must get its act together, work to strengthen democratic institutions, and set its priorities straight. That is a more reliable way to ensure political survival, rather than tedious and fulsome proclamations repeated ad nauseam.
Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2023