ISLAMABAD - In what appeared to be a clear snub to the party which has been a thorn in the government's side for quite some time, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif completely ignored the PTI's return to parliament in his remarks on the floor of the house on Tuesday.
In a brief statement in the National Assembly on the second day of a joint session of both houses of parliament, the prime minister addressed lawmakers' queries regarding the Saudi request for military support against Yemeni rebels.
He also thanked Aitzaz Ahsan and Khursheed Shah, the PPP leaders of the opposition in the Senate and National Assembly, respectively, as well as Senator Mushahid Hussain of the PML-Q, by name for actively participating in the special joint sitting of parliament. However, he conveniently glossed over PTI's Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was also on a front-row seat right next to the PPP leaders.
However, the response from nearly all other speakers was in stark contrast to the PM's cold attitude and on Tuesday most parliamentarians not only welcomed the PTI back to the house, but also exhorted the government benches to be gracious towards Imran Khan and his party.
But the prime minister did not welcome the PTI lawmakers, nor did he make even the slightest reference to Monday's stormy session, which received more coverage for the PTI-bashing that occurred than for the actual agenda of the sitting, Pakistan's response to the conflict in Yemen.
In his speech, Senator Farhatullah Babar not only welcomed the PTI back to the house but also asked the defence minister to show magnanimity and formally requested the speaker to expunge the remarks he had made about Mr Khan's party. "PTI's rejoining the house is a triumph of parliament and democracy," he said.
Similarly, ANP MNA Ghulam Ahmed Bilour said it was good to see the PTI back in parliament. Recalling Monday's events, Mr Bilour requested both the government and PTI to avoid controversial statements. "Although verbal spats between parties are not new to parliamentary proceedings, considering the country's state of affairs, we cannot afford such confrontation," he said.
Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq said: "After prolonged efforts, PTI has returned to the parliament. Now we should all join hands to work for the collective good of the masses instead of settling personal scores."
PML-Q Senator Mushahid Hussain said it was good to see an inclusive house with representation from all political parties and specifically mentioned the PTI and BNP-Mengal in his remarks.
When asked about the prime minister's aloofness to the presence in the house, political analyst Dr Hassan Askari-Rizvi told Dawn that although Imran Khan's return to parliament was a positive development for the government, "I think many within the PML-N aren't happy over the formation of the judicial commission and PTI's return to the opposition benches in the National Assembly".
In addition, he explained, "Any remarks by the PM aimed at pacifying the PTI would automatically undermine Khawaja Asif, who had taken on the PTI members on Monday. Therefore, I believe he deliberately avoided mentioning Monday's events."
Amir Mateen, a senior journalist who has covered parliament for several years now, also agreed that whether intentional or unintentional, the PM's snub to the PTI did not go unnoticed in the press gallery. "PTI's return to the house after seven months and Khawaja Asif's speech the day before were too important to be missed by the PM in his speech," he said.
Khawaja Asif has called the PTI leadership "shameless and immodest" for sitting in the same parliament it had harangued day in and day out from their container on D-Chowk during their three-month long sit-in.
Outside parliament, PTI cadres continued to criticise Khawaja Asif for using what they termed "un-parliamentary language" against their party leadership.
At a press conference on Tuesday, PTI MNA Ghulam Sarwar and central deputy general secretary Umar Dar said the defence minister's outburst had only embarrassed the prime minister.
Mr Dar, who was PTI's candidate against Khawaja Asif in NA-110, said: "Instead of criticising us, Mr Asif should let the people know what measures he has taken as power minister to end loadshedding in the country."