PARLIAMENT has become so incidental to our politics that we seldom notice minor but significant changes occurring in its sacred halls. It is not only because of our parties and the way they govern, even if they share a greater responsibility than the others.
Another reason is the TV channels – controversial statements, ambiguous bayans that make headlines and breaking news, and fights between politicians are now reported to us every night, seven days a week. With these daily bulletins, few are interested in the speeches made on the floor of the parliament or the clashes that take place there. (Even the parties themselves prefer those who can attend talk shows over those who can do legislative work or deliver meaningful speeches on the ground.)
As a result, parliamentary events have been reduced to bits and pieces – mostly statements – appearing in news reports, which pale in front of the shorter, spicier talk shows (with a variety of politicians). No wonder then that the star journalist of yesteryear, the reporter from the press gallery, responsible for reporting on the debates, is now replaced by the presenter of a prime-time program. It is now the latter that politicians are courting.
There is, however, another result of this transition to television – in the days of print media, the various committees of parliament provided a lot of food for hackers. Most of us have always known that even if Parliament was not in session, committee meetings meant that a nugget or two could still be found in a dusty boardroom here and there. And sometimes always more. For example, in 2010, the health secretary told a Senate health committee that relief operations for flood survivors were not possible in Jacobabad because Shehbaz air base was with the Americans. The story echoed for days in Islamabad. And in the heady days after 2008, the Public Accounts Committee, led by Chaudhry Nisar, whose vocal cords did not need rest, led the charge against Musharraf’s regime to our delight. But since then it has also become rather dull.
This time, the Ganges flows upside down but no one has an answer.
And maybe that’s why we old folks who still remember the good old days were happy with Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who allowed us a brief trip down memory lane. As the head of the Senate Human Rights Committee, he shed light on issues that touch our hearts.
He let stories echo about the people in a building that has become quite distant from the citizens he is supposed to represent. And aside from angry speeches in parliament, stories about people started in parliament and then made their way to the screen.
He brought in young students who had been accused of sedition for their sin to protest for their rights on the roads of Lahore. He invited young Baloch students who told us how they were pressured by the staff of their educational institutions. He took sticks for Sarmad Khoosat’s film, Zindagi Tamasha, when he ran into trouble with the righteous spell. Critics say he picked the issues out and left out X, Y, Z but at least A, B, C were highlighted. And in Pakistan, every little bit counts.
In all of this he was supported by the rest of the committee. Most members of the Senate Human Rights Committee seemed to be just as sensitive to these issues. But times have changed; parliament is now a secondary spectacle, and human rights have always been one.
And so it looks like we’re getting back to normal – in the dust raised by the March senatorial elections, Khokhar’s relationship with his party leadership was also a victim. Even before Senate committees were finalized, few expected him to return.
But what we weren’t expecting was that the committee would come back to the government because the PML-N traded it for defense!
Senior Senate officials say the human rights committee has traditionally gone to the opposition, while the defense goes to the government. However, this time, the Ganges flows upside down but no one has an answer.
From the PPP, Senator Sherry Rehman is the only one to have taken the trouble to give some explanations. “Lots of opposition to the PPP which holds the HR presidency in both chambers, so [chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Human Rights] was given to PML N. But after N traded it for defense directly [with] Govt, Sen Reza Rabbani and I spent all day trying to get the Govt committee back in an exchange for IPC [Interprovincial Committee] once N gave it to them. But say no.
The government is probably relieved that the committee no longer embarrasses them for its poor human rights record.
The PML-N is silent. Not a glance from them, even if asked. The party can speak eight hours a day on anything based on principles such as “vote ko izzat do” and the constitutional rights of an executive, but it has not provided any explanation for choosing defense instead. than human rights. Perhaps he will use this platform to point the guns at his favorite enemy or to emphasize his pragmatism. We don’t know, nor do we know if this exchange was a party decision or the choice of a lone ranger. Mushahid Hussain now heads the defense committee.
But to be fair, the PML-N is not alone in losing interest.
A quick glance at the channels over the weekend showed the usual debates. The rate of growth, the politics of the opposition and who said what and what that might have meant – all the usual masala was there, but little about this little side story about a Senate committee.
And it is in this silence that lies the true story of the importance of human rights to us as a people. No wonder the previous Senate committee and its proceedings turned out to be an aberration. The little story some of us will remember as the majority is fascinated by the saga of elections, establishment, growth rates and other heavy themes. Maybe the bigwigs get the feeling that once the saga ends happily forever, the news will automatically have a happy ending as well.
The writer is a journalist.
Posted in Dawn, le 8 June 2021