‘Like a pleasant surprise’

The Nation  |  Jun 19, 2021

With obvious intent of foiling the negative impact of unprecedented bedlam, perpetuating chaos in the National Assembly for three full days early this week, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari delivered a focused speech on budgetary proposals, at the outset of Friday sitting. 

His comprehensive speech was not a usual exercise in mere point scoring. Broadly, the youthful Chairman of Pakistan Peoples’ Party attempted to discuss the economic management of the Imran government as a keen student of economics. But being the instinctive politician he also rubbed in points, highlighting the pain and misery of the mass of our people.

Presenting proposals for the next financial year, before the National Assembly last Friday, Shaukat Fayyaz Tarin had indeed tried hard to promote a feel-good story. Unleashing the flood of data points, the Finance Minister kept asserting that the Imran government inherited a bankrupt economy after taking over in August 2018.

Bangladesh seeks UN intervention to end Rohingya crisis Instead of succumbing to despondency, the Finance Minister proudly explained, how Prime Minister Imran Khan bravely stood up to a daunting challenge and how vision and good intentions finally helped miraculous recovery of our economy. As a result, our economy has now started to travel fast on the route to growth.

Instead of wasting time in transmitting the message that the finance minister had essentially relied on ‘figure-fudging’ for building a feel-good story, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari kept stressing that perceptions often prove far more important than reality in politics. And an average citizen of Pakistan is actually not feeling good about the everyday realities of our economy.

Then he switched to insist that the economic policies of the Imran government were primarily focusing on furnishing more and more incentives to certain sectors, which already had been monopolized by a definite set of big industrial groups. Agriculture was completely neglected and Pakistan ended up importing essential commodities like wheat. He firmly insisted that an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis could only feel good, if sectors connected to the rural economy appeared growing and thriving.

Israel to send 1M vaccine doses to Palestinian Authority in swap deal Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was legitimately agitated over the fact that in spite of completing more than two years in the government, the Prime Minister was yet not able to update the terms of National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, which ensured judicious distribution of resources among the federation and the provinces comprising the same.

The Constitution of Pakistan clearly demands frequent reviews of the NFC Award, but the Imran government was constantly failing, even in seriously moving towards it. Such dereliction of duty was set to deepen grievances smaller provinces of Pakistan had been accumulating for the past many decades.

Discussing budgetary proposals of the Imran government, Bilawal Bhutto had previously been delivering extremely sharp speeches since elected to the national assembly in July 2018. They also swayed and entertained the galleries for being loaded with deadpan wit and focused taunts. On Friday, though, he often seemed rushing through the talking points he had crowded in his mind.

Pakistan army to modernise Artillery corps: COAS He did not press on some pertinent questions either. For example, pushing the government in a tight corner to clearly state how it wanted to deal with the IMF from now on. The budget, Shaukat Tarin, an erstwhile banker, has prepared, clearly wants to throw money on certain ‘development projects’ to attract more votes for Imran Khan’s party, come the next election.

Doing this, the finance minister apparently disregarded the terms of a three-year program, his predecessor, Dr Hafiz Sheikh, had signed with the IMF to get an aggregate amount of six billion US dollars in multiple installments. The said program now seems to be on hold.

More than a score of credible economists continue to worriedly wonder that from where the finance minister would get the money to execute many of his ideas, if Pakistan eventually decided to pull itself out of the agreement signed with the IMF. Chairman PPP did not put enough emphasis on the same question.

Sindh, Punjab facing shortage of vaccines Pakistan can certainly expect ‘sympathy’ from the IMF, if the United States and its allies feel good and comfortable with our behavior vis-à-vis their game regarding Afghanistan. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari did refer to it, but not in an elaborate manner. But he clearly demanded that both houses of Pakistan’s Parliament should be taken on board for deciding our policies on Afghanistan. In the past, the regimes led by General Zia and later General Musharraf had exclusively been deciding on this subject and this led to dreadful consequences for the country.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari forcefully expressed the desire that history must not repeat itself. And this time round, ‘public representatives’ should equally be involved in deciding our policies on Afghanistan.

Asad Qaisar, the Speaker, instantly endorsed his suggestion and promised that he would personally seek comprehensive briefings on Afghanistan, by the relevant quarters, for members of the national assembly, immediately after the end of the budget session.

Govt aims to preserve historic sites across country: PM Imran In the past, the ruling party had been launching Murad Saeed, the venom-spitting minister of communication, to respond to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s speeches in the national assembly. Instead of furnishing an argument-based reaction, Saeed always preferred to unleash a delirious volley of rude words to deride the person of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. That provoked the PPP MNAs like Qadir Patel to consistently target the communication minister by use of lethal innuendos.

During his speech Friday, Bilawal Bhutto had also used contemptuous words against Murad Saeed, but without naming him. At the end of his speech, the PPP Chairman also “congratulated” the ruling party while referring to officially revealed figures, revealing that in Pakistan the population of donkeys had grown, phenomenally, during the past two years. The use of the word “donkey” was extremely subtle. Only the PTI members could feel the real pain of it. But I don’t want to explain why.

Yet instead of launching Murad Saeed for another time, the ruling party asked Hammad Azhar, Minister of Energy, to respond to the speech of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. To the press gallery it surely appeared like a pleasant surprise.

During the opening moments of his speech, however, Hammad Azhar struggled hard to prove that he could act more lethal and rude than Murad Saeed. Trusting his ‘talent’, he proudly predicted that the opposition leaders would certainly show that they didn’t have the courage and decency to face the truth he was set to tell. And he proved right, because both Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari left the House, within seconds of his taking the Assembly floor.

Even in the absence of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Azhar kept mocking his style of delivering a speech “by mixing Urdu with English.” He also laughed at the “competence” of the PPP Chairman, when it comes to discussing economic management. The young minister from Lahore kept deridingly wondering: “This person (BBZ) has never worked for a minute in his life to earn for a living. How can he show the audacity of discussing economy while twisting his mouth to deliver some English words with forced accent and feign empathy for the pain of the poor?”

I genuinely felt sorry for the Minister. When he came to the House as a freshman in 2018, Hammad Azhar certainly appeared impressively capable of spinning a forceful story, while discussing issues with solid facts and figures. But he soon realised that “the court” these days only recognise and appreciate willful jesters, obsessed to embarrass and unnerve political opponents of the government by inventing rude and crude jokes. He took no time to fall into the trap, which eventually will ruin his own potential.  


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