As usual, the National Assembly session on Thursday started late in the day and came straight to question and answer time. One really hopes that because of the terrifying third wave of COVID-19, Dr. Naushin Hamid, parliamentary secretary of health, will be persuaded to provide a comprehensive and diffusive answer. To get an answer like that, Ibu Hina Rabbani Khar from PPP also asked a series of sharp questions. Yet the parliamentary secretary failed to come up with any plans that would help us to believe that the government has a well-thought-out strategy for reaching the herd immunity stage.
Instead of focusing on worrisome public health issues, however, “our representatives” spent about twenty minutes figuring out why Pakistan was not yet able to produce cars, locally, and seemed stuck to keep assembling them by importing their prime spare parts.
Ms Alya Hamza Malik, Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, was very well equipped with detailed answers. With visible pride, he told the house that thanks to a determined initiative from the Imran government, not one but twenty-one automakers of global repute felt motivated to build a factory in Pakistan. Six of them have already started producing cars that you can notice on our roads. These cars are not only cheaper than well-known brands, but also meet strict safety standards. Most of them are also environmentally friendly.
“Our representatives” are not satisfied. They continue to wonder what percentage of locally produced parts are used to manufacture the recently introduced car. The many questions that were anxious in this regard forced Ms. Alya Hamza to give a short lecture to explain the notion of “economies of scale.”
The operative part of his lecture politely explained that in order to encourage large auto parts production, newcomers to the auto market would have to at least get orders for half a million cars. He also feels confident that Pakistan may enter that phase soon because of the policies adopted by the Imran government, which he stresses are entirely focused on economic growth and prosperity.
Addressing questions related to agriculture, he also refuses to support the perception that the agricultural sector is not doing well in Pakistan lately. He continues to insist that the average sugarcane and wheat farmer is never feeling as good as they are currently feeling. They get better rates than before and the factory owners also pay them instantly.
Hardly any member of the national assembly bothered to ask him that if things are so good regarding our agricultural sector, why does the government feel it must first approve and then quickly abandon the idea of importing sugar and cotton from India to keep their prices ‘stable’ in Pakistan.
As an old school parliamentary reporter, I am sure that the amount of strong opposition will force the government to explain why the Economic Coordination Committee has decided to allow imports of the aforementioned goods from India after a long meeting held on Wednesday. It was more of the first major policy decision Hammad Azhar announced after replacing Dr Hafiz Sheikh as Minister of Finance of Pakistan. It is almost a day after the Federal Cabinet overturned the decision at its meeting Thursday.
But instead of asking questions about the ‘here and now’ issue, most members of the opposition would rather introduce a new set of laws they envision in their personal capacity wearing a ‘futuristic hat.’ Not surprisingly, ministers feel very comfortable in the face of reasonable, mature, and responsible opposition, even though their comfort often reeks of arrogance.
Ali Mohammad Khan, the state minister for parliamentary affairs, made the same point on Thursday. He is trying to pass a resolution to empower Asad Qaisar, Chairman of the national assembly, to form a parliamentary committee that devotes time and energy to ‘electoral reforms. “
The opposition members looked as if they were “shocked” by his move. Miss Shazia Atta Marri and Khurram Dastagir Khan delivered arrogant speeches reminding the government that they will not give “arbitrary power” to the Speaker. They also believe that there is basically nothing wrong with the legal instruments, which are designed to hold elections. The “real problem” came from elsewhere. Without specifying their point of origin, they continued to inform the Imran government that they should not expect compliant cooperation from the opposition, when it decided to move on its own in the name of reforming the election-related law. Instead of passing a resolution to the vote, the deputy chair quickly turned to “legislative work,” which of course led to a yawn.
In every nook and corner of parliamentary corridors, a small group of legislators and reporters eager to find out the intriguing details regarding the “massive overhaul” of the federal cabinet, Prime Minister Imran Khan may intend to announce “in a day or so.”
Imran Khan surprised us by suddenly announcing Dr. Hafiz Sheikh with the start of the ongoing week. His dismissal motivated many to feel as though he was fed up with ‘technocrats’ and after spending 30 months in government, he now wants to design and implement people-friendly policies with a new team. Instead of being dominated by ‘unselected advisers’, the team will represent the collective aspirations of hardline political types, who want to remain loyal to Imran Khan, rain or shine.
But after sacking Hafiz Sheikh and Nadim Babar, Imran Khan appointed another “unselected technocrat” to run the energy ministry. Omar Ayub Khan, who has accumulated a wealth of experience running a ministry dealing with finance since General Musharraf’s time as a “junior” minister, has run the ministry. He’s still there, but no one is sure about his future now.
Likewise, rumors are circulating that even after replacing Dr. Hafiz Sheikh, Hammad Azhar still need active and wise guidance to run a strong finance ministry. The name Shaukat Tareen, a veteran banker, circles in the context given.
Asif Ali Zardari first encountered Tareen after being elected President after the 2008 elections. Yousaf Raza Gillani was asked to hand the finance ministry over to him and he negotiated a hefty “bailout package” with the IMF. However, after a few months, he began to feel uncomfortable with the interference in his domain and opted to leave. Dr Hafiz Sheikh succeeded him, but failed to gain the trust of Asif Ali Zardari.
Don’t forget Shaukat Tareen, he was again approached to serve the Imran government in 2019, when Asad Umar felt unable to fly. Tareen refused because NAB had made a case against him.
The same case still exists, awaiting final closure by the Supreme Court. And Tareen does not want to face a so-called “media tribunal” after joining the Imran government to federal ministerial status and power.
However, the government seems determined to seek his direction, almost desperately. To facilitate the same, there may be strong committees of “economists” drafting policies for government. Tareen can chair him and Hammad Azhar will only be asked to implement the policies given by the committee.
But the young pastor must have felt very embarrassed. However, the federal cabinet has scrapped the first policy initiative he announced to allow imports of sugar and cotton from India. And this happened in the four days after he took over the finance ministry. Not a “good start” by all means.