Editorial: Punjab Assembly’s shame
On Wednesday, for the second day running, the Punjab police arrested, detained and then released opposition MPAs from the Punjab Assembly following orders from the Punjab Assembly speaker, Mr Afzal Sahi, Monday who debarred 27 opposition MPAs from attending the Assembly session for “hampering and obstructing the proceedings” of the House. Earlier, on Tuesday, when the barred members tried to return to the session, 22 of them were picked up by the police and detained for six hours. The detainees included the leader and deputy leader of the opposition who duly announced the death of democracy under the PML-QA. Lahore’s High Court Bar Association has condemned the action against the opposition MPAs and repeated its objection to the LFO. Elsewhere, opinion over culpability was slightly different, but the consensus was that the Punjab Assembly had not acquitted itself with any sense of propriety and honour.
But the Wednesday action was worse than what happened the day before. Reportedly, police also roughed up some journalists present on the scene to perform their duty of reporting the shenanigans of elected representatives and functionaries of the state. This is most unfortunate and has to be condemned. One is pained to unravel the crisis as it developed. The leader of the opposition had got up in routine inquiry about the “non-receipt” of development funds by the opposition MPAs while the treasury benchers had been generously served. While the honourable leader of the opposition was still speaking, his side of the house mobbed the speaker, shouting slogans that had nothing to do with the issue at hand. The explanation from the government was still to come but the angry members chose to attack rather than wait for the answer. What ensued is difficult to describe. Amid shouts of “Down with the LFO” and “Down with lotas”, the MPAs fell upon one another, abusing and landing blows like savages. Shockingly, the ladies, whose new presence in the house should have kept the male members on the leash, took part in the affray and got roughed up too. The treasury benches later explained that development funds had been given only to MPAs who had drawn up schemes for their constituencies. They said that the opposition had mostly not paid heed to the requirement and had not been allocated any funds. The opposition rubbished these claims, saying that the ruling party had hogged the goodies. Was this the real issue at stake or was the opposition trying to make another point?
Blame must be apportioned on all parties. In the past, too, governments have tried to allocate the lion’s share of development funds to their own MPAs; in fact such funding has invariably been used for greater leverage. In any case, even if we were to accept the government’s contention, the Speaker’s attitude leaves much to be desired. Such actions are mostly taken more as a symbolic gesture to shame a maverick member into behaving. The Tuesday showing was bad enough, but what happened on Wednesday is immoral. Instead of working out things in a decent way, the government has shown itself to be high-handed and Speaker Sahi’s actions have left a scar on the assembly.
The assembly house on the old Charing Cross was first shocked in the 1950s when veteran politician Mian Mumtaz Daultana led a “bhangra” around the aisles, but that was nothing compared to what took place in the decade of the 1900s when politicians fell to the habit of multiple floor crossing and depended more on insult than genuine hard work to impress their constituencies. But the houses in the past included politicians who were not properly educated. However, the current House is filled with General Musharraf’s “graduates” who should have given a better account of themselves. The House also contains General Musharraf’s “ladies on special seats” who failed to impart civilisation to the “graduate” men on Monday. No doubt the LFO slogan has been raised belatedly in the Punjab Assembly on cue from the deadlock that has stopped proceedings at the centre so close to the budget. But it is a measure of the strength of feelings against it that tempers were so raised last Monday. The sooner this is sorted out, the better, because when Assemblies don’t function, the politicians will be blamed for it even if the military’s intransigence is responsible for the provocation. *
New High Commissioner to India
The additional secretary at the Foreign Office, Mr Aziz Ahmad Khan, is to be Pakistan’s high commissioner to New Delhi. This is a good move. As spokesman of the Foreign Office, he already has a “cool” public image, and is not given to frothing at the mouth at the mention of the word, India. He was our ambassador in Kabul during the troubled reign of Mullah Umar, which of course means that he is a Pushtun. He was our deputy high commissioner in New Delhi earlier. He will replace Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, a Pushtun from Balochistan, and follow in the footsteps of the serene Dr Humayun Khan, another Pushtun who was once our man in New Delhi!
The job of a high commissioner to India is to faithfully communicate the position of his government. He is not chosen because he can “add” something to the mission he has been charged with. A good high commissioner will always set himself apart with his style. Diplomacy is the art of maintaining effective communication even in crisis. And God knows there is more crisis than serenity in Indo-Pak relations. During bouts of bilateral tension, a high commissioner serves the country much better if he remains unprovocative in style and eschews scoring points for consumption back home. In New Delhi, the high commissioner of Pakistan has a social status like no other foreign diplomat. To that extent, diplomacy is made easy for him. But to fully exploit the cultural advantage, Islamabad must choose the right man for the job. It is wrong to send an India-hater to “teach the Indians a lesson”. The right thing to do is to send a man who can effectively and firmly communicate and defend the position of his government without arousing public hostility. And Aziz Khan is the man for the job. *