By Mirza Khurram Shahzad –
Trying to stay relevant, Dasti picks the wrong vice
The parliament in Pakistan has never come up to the expectations of people. People who are badly hit by the terrorism, law and order woes, inflation and poverty look to the parliament for legislation and steps to end their miseries.
But the parliamentarians sitting in the august house, always come with jokes and non-issues which have nothing to do with the real problems of people. In a National Assembly session at the end of February, at a time when the people were expecting that the parliament would table legislation to do away with the terrorism, inflation and poverty, they saw one of the most awkward debates in history.
One odd member named Jamshed Dasti stood up on a point of order and made a startling revelation that the Parliament Lodges–the official residence of parliamentarians—had become a hub for immoral activities, mujras (dancing girls) and liquor as well as various drugs.
Dasti, an independent member from Muzaffargarh, broke a silence of many months when he made these allegations. The revelation jolted the house and members appeared puzzled by Dasti’s outburst. Naeema Kishwar, a female member chairing the proceedings of the house at the time, ordered Dasti’s microphone be turned off, out of confusion.
Although the controversy is almost dead now after orders of inquiries and Dasti’s claims of having footage and evidence of the dance parties and supply of the liquor and drugs worth millions of rupees inside the lodges, it is no secret that such activities take place there.
Of course not all, but various members of parliament enjoy their tenures any way they see fit. It is not news that liquor and hashish are supplied to the Parliament Lodges and women ‘of dubious character’ visit there, actually it happens everywhere in Islamabad. The rules which declare such activities illegal are only in the books specified for the poor and powerless. But what prompted Dasti to let the cat out of the box and bring a bad name to his own colleagues still remains an unsolved mystery.
Dasti, first elected on Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) ticket in 2008, always finds a way to keep himself in limelight by raising controversial issues.
Born in 1978 to a labourer in employ of the Canals Department of Punjab in Muzaffargarh, Dasti started his career as a part time journalist with an Urdu language national daily famous (read infamous) for exposing scandals of moral and personal corruption.
Becoming popular by breaking such scandals in his area, he formed a Mazdoor Ittihad Group (Labour Front) with like-minded friends to contest the 2002 local government elections. By the virtue of lambasting the rich and ruling elite, he managed to win a general seat in the district council and became the only opponent of the chairman in a house of over 100 members.
By then, he had learnt that character assassination is a way to climb the ladder to popularity and fame. He was the only member leveling serious allegations of corruption and monopoly against the chairman of the district council and garnering support in the process.
In this time, several cases were registered against him and he spent over a year in prison on different occasions. “Once I had finalised a plan to break the jail and had arranged a pistol with me, but a court set me free just before I put my plan into action,” he confessed to Pique.
As PPP struggled to field candidates in the 2008 general elections, someone introduced them to Dasti to fill the gap in Muzaffargarh, and he cashed in on his reputation of being a spokesman for the poor very well to win the elections on a PPP ticket.
Having made his way to the assembly, he targeted every Tom, Dick and Harry who was against the PPP chairperson Asif Ali Zardari. No matter if it was Nawaz Sharif, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary or General Pervez Musharraf.
Zaradri rewarded him with the chairmanship of standing committee on sports, and Dasti took full advantage. “The party thought this committee has no worth and pushed it into my lap, but I extracted a lot out of it,”
Dasti summoned various senior officials heading sports organizations including Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ijaz Butt, President Pakistan Hockey Federation Qasim Zia and then Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman in his capacity of the President Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) and challenged them in front of media.
He also summoned the blue-eyed bureaucrats of the federal and provincial government of Punjab in the matter of attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore and held them responsible for failing in security.
In 2010, he failed to recite verses from Quran in defence of his bachelor’s degree which was termed fake and he had to resign from his National Assembly seat.
But surprisingly and perhaps shockingly for some, he succeeded to ride on the back of the initiatives he had taken for the welfare of his voters and got re-elected in the by-elections. He introduced a free bus service for public in his constituency and earned a nickname of “Rescue 15” for making himself available in every emergency in his constituency.
Enjoying the confidence of people, he challenged Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani from his own party and region South Punjab and levelled allegations of serious corruption against him. He also challenged the sitting Foreign Minister of his own party, Hina Rubbani Khar and contested elections against her father.
He started his election campaign in 2013 from a donkey-cart and succeeded in winning both seats he was contesting. He tried to get a ministry or a key committee chairmanship by joining PML-N but failed in his attempt. He also tried to join PTI, but was not welcomed. But the months of silence and time away from the media limelight finally took its toll and Dasti emerged from the shadows, guns blazing and blaring allegations of immoral activities in the lodges.
“My aim is to fight for the poor against the powerful and feudal. How can we allow rich and powerful to abuse law and book poor under the same regulations. If poor and powerless people are arrested for drinking alcohol and adultery, these lawmakers should also face same treatment,” he defends his acts.
But his opponents say he himself is a drug pusher and an oil thief.
“He steals oil from the tankers. There are several cases against him ranging from the drugs smuggling to murder,” says Abdul Hameed Dasti, one of his political rivals in Muzaffargarh. “Speaking against powerful, rich and influential is his hobby and also a key to success.”
The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad