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Once upon a Monday

What was Pakistan like this week in terms of its national affairs? This rather rhetorical question is prompted by an event that took place on the first day of this week, on Monday. So much more had happened on that day that incited frenzied activity on the national stage. In fact, this entire week has been action-packed.

Looking at the evolving political scenario, I am reminded of an old satirical show on BBC TV titled ‘That was the week that was’, known informally as ‘TWTWTW’. But the ‘TWTWTW’ that I have is not satirical, although the most solemn occasion of the week had an unwitting touch of satire.

On Monday, President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi addressed the joint session of parliament to mark the fourth year of the present government. This is the president’s constitutional obligation to launch the new parliamentary year with something akin to the state of the union address of the US president. It is also incumbent on parliament to have a thorough debate on the presidential address.

This did not happen during the previous parliamentary year – and this would be a comment on how the legislative business was conducted during the past year. But the tradition of the opposition’s protest was not deferred. Members of the opposition raised slogans when the president began his address. They surrounded the National Assembly speaker’s dais and then walked out to boycott the session.

Unprecedented on this day was the sit-in of journalists outside the Parliament House, which began on Sunday night. It was a big show, in protest against the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA). Leaders of the opposition parties joined the ‘dharna’ and spoke vociferously in defence of the struggle for freedom of expression and a free press.

The joint campaign of all media organisations has gradually been building up and has now reached a level that the government is visibly unnerved. This movement, bringing to the fore fundamental issues of the role of the media in a democratic setting, is bound to have its political implications. Combined with other developments of this week, it has made the government led by Imran Khan more vulnerable. Significantly, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ) decided on Thursday to hold a long march from Quetta to Islamabad in early November.

There was another unprecedented event directly related to the president’s address. For the first time in Pakistan’s parliamentary history, the press gallery was locked during the president’s address. There was this tell-tale clip of the president taken aback when he looked up towards the press gallery and found it empty.

It was Monday in Washington DC when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US would be looking at its relationship with Pakistan in the coming weeks to formulate what role Washington would want it play in future.

I am sorry to have come all this way without mentioning the main point that has provoked me to write this column. Yes, it is about some remarks that the president made in his address. There is a reason why I am hesitating to do that. I have always respected Dr Arif Alvi as a gentleman. He looks dignified in his exalted position and makes eminent sense in his conversations.

Why did he then say what he did in his address on Monday is beyond me. And what was that? First, one may also object to his fulsome praise of the present government and his claim that the country was now passing through industrial growth and prosperity which the opposition could not impede with its protest. Not that this enthusiastic approval of the government’s performance was in defiance of the emerging economic indicators, he should have projected a more neutral and a less partisan image as the president of the country.

Anyhow, he was so carried away in his adulation of the prime minister that – and I am quoting from the published report in this newspaper – he said: “The world would like to become a follower and student of Prime Minister Imran Khan and learn from him due to his political wisdom”. The headline of the lead story on Tuesday (Sept 14): “World leaders ought to follow Imran, says Alvi”.

Since the speech was delivered in Urdu, the story in the leading Urdu daily referred to ‘shagirdi’ and ‘mureedi’. There was some spiritual aspect in how the president thought that the world should be Imran Khan’s disciple. One wonders as to how the PTI leader would respond to this adulation. But as the week progressed, turmoil in the political arena continued to raise questions about how the government was managing its affairs.

In any case, Imran Khan was not making much headway in exercising the ‘political wisdom’ that the president had lauded. With rising prices, specifically of petroleum products, and the falling rupee, economic observers were becoming suspicious of the growth that this government is wont to celebrate. There are facts, it seems, that have been kept from the president.

The week was not yet over when, on Friday afternoon, there was this bombshell of the New Zealand cricket team abandoning its Pakistan tour at the last minute. There was supposed to be a security threat. But New Zealand officials were not willing to offer any details. So much so that even a telephone call from Prime Minister Imran Khan to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not help.

Naturally, a large number of citizens, ardent fans of cricket, were angry and felt cheated. All kinds of interpretations were in circulation. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, in a hurriedly called press conference, saw it as an international conspiracy.

In his initial response, the new PCB chairman, Ramiz Raja, tweeted: “Crazy day it has been! Feel so sorry for the fans and our players. Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it is not shared!! Which world is NZ living in? NZ will hear us at ICC.”

Surely, someone was not playing cricket.

Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

Ghazi Salahuddin, "Once upon a Monday," The News. 2021-09-19.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political wisdom , Political arena , Democratic , Parliament , Economy , Ramiz Raja , PM Imran Khan , New Zealand , Pakistan , PTI , PCB , ICC