Will Prime Minister Imran Khan restore the sanctity of Pakistan’s parliament?

There is so much noise on my twitter timeline it is as if mere words have the power to destroy my painstakingly acquired peace of mind. Muting notifications and undesirable words do not work on an app where photos, memes and videos pop up like mosquitoes in a rainforest–unstoppable, biting, ubiquitous.

Political twitter of Pakistan has never been well-behaved, but recently, it is smashing its own records with a chilling indifference, a calculated insensitivity. Rules of engagement are not being rewritten, they are being erased with an intensity that borders on madness. Political loyalties decide whose name and reputation, on any given day, is to be destroyed without missing an ethical heartbeat, without batting a remorseful eye. There is so much hatred, so much negativity, it is a miracle all slivers of goodness do not face premature extinction.

Twitter is nothing but a microcosm of the overwhelming polarisation and toxicity that is labelled as political differences between the party in government and the individual or united forces of opposition. 1,170 people represent 220 million Pakistanis in the Senate, National Assembly, and four provincial assemblies of Pakistan. Imagine the power they have. Imagine the responsibility that is bestowed on them. Imagine the honour they carry. Imagine the positivity they are in a position to put in motion.

Do you hear the resounding crash? It is the sound of the breaking of the hopes of 220 million Pakistanis as they see the hallowed floor of the National Assembly turn into a dark woodland where banshees and werewolves wrestle with one another for the control of the land.

Governments change the fates of their nations with their pragmatic, people-centric policies, and sensible, farsighted governance. Opposition parties keep the governments on their toes with their constructive criticism and people-focused suggestions. What is happening in Pakistan is anything but that.

The government of Pakistan under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, and the four provincial governments under the leadership of Chief Ministers Usman Buzdar, Murad Ali Shah, Mahmood Khan, and Jam Kamal Khan are fully dedicated to fulfilment of their electoral manifestos, strategising and implementing policies and programmes that are the solutions to the short- and long-term problems of the people of Pakistan. That is the simple truth.

What, however, is seen on millions of television screens and Facebook and Twitter timelines is the bleakness of the endless bickering, name-calling, blame-shifting, personal slurs, and outright insults politicians lob on one another in talk shows, and on the floor of parliaments–national and provincial. The regular work of parliament–passing of legislation on important issues and debates on nationally important issues–is ignored on newspaper front pages, prime time news, Twitter hashtags, and Facebook shared posts.

What becomes a scintillating headline is the unprintable cuss words parliamentarians mouth as easily as ice cream melting in the June sun. The 24/7 hard work of various central and provincial ministries is not the news that sells. Grey-haired family men and staid champions of democracy hurling mother-sister-daughter desecrating abuses on one another is a huge headline. And hey, why shouldn’t it be? It is awful beyond words.

Politicians are doing dreadful things that directly affect the sanctity of parliament, the honourable place where decisions are taken for the national good in a country where the personal supersedes the collective, where vested interests trump national priorities, where loyalties to political leaders are more important than that to the state, where the crassness of words of a parliamentarian is more laudatory than the real good being done for the wellbeing of the thousands of voters whose stamp brought them into parliament. That terrible behaviour should be a headline in bold. It is.

Someone has to show the ugly images, recorded in HD, to the few hundreds who think they are invincible. Transient power that they have intoxicates them into believing their own political immortality. So complete is their self-love they forget the house of sand and fog political power is. Doors their elected position open for them render them delusional about their pygmy stature.

And the people of Pakistan, watch in horror, the macabre circus of politicians versus politicians, ministers versus former ministers, MNAs versus former prime ministers, MNAs versus former chief ministers. Swirling in the minds of the people of Pakistan is one question: is this all Pakistan’s most powerful represent?

When in power the very ideals that they fought for are turned upside down. The vow to not repeat the mistakes of the former rulers is broken quicker than a Rosenthal dish in a naughty child’s hand. That is true of every elected government and every military dictator in power in Pakistan.

For me, the eternal optimist and the lifelong follower of politics, the present bleakness is not a new predicament. But being an Imran Khan and a PTI supporter, it greatly saddens me. I dreamed, hoped, and expected things to change for the better.

Cliched politics would make room for enlightened and untested ways of governance and communication. Country not party being supreme would be the new political roadmap. Dignified interactions despite hardened differences would take place between our leaders.

Respect of the Leader of the House would be unquestioned. Leader of the Opposition to be treated with respect would not be an issue of conflict. Both sides, treasury and opposition, to be given full space for the articulation of their point of views would be the new norm. Debates on the floor of parliament would be to find solutions for the issues of the people and for the good of the country and not mere shouting matches between party loyalists and political opportunists.

Instead of a graceful show of patience and pragmatism to discuss and debate the pros and cons of the annual budget, what the nation saw–stunned, anguished–was rude banging on tables and loutish flinging of budget volumes on one another, hurting silently standing female parliamentarians, and the decorum of the parliament.

Obscenities that were shouted and threats of violence that were audible without microphones in all corners of the expansive parliament floor was what would haunt Pakistani politics for decades.

Those words and everything else that happened on our National Assembly floor on June 15, 2021. My faith in anything truly changing in Pakistan is a little weaker today. With a heart that is heavy, I find myself questioning my dreams, hopes, expectations. I still wish to pray though.

Will Prime Minister Imran Khan be the leader to restore the sanctity of Pakistan’s parliament that has seen too much ugliness in the last few decades, and is still stuck in an era of darkness?

I wait.

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