IT is a fable, and like most such stories it bears a similarity to the truth, just as a waxwork does to reality.
Once upon a time, some scorpions decided to hold a dance. The catch was that each had to sting the scorpion closest to it, so that by the end of the dance, the last surviving scorpion would become the leader.To some, the present political gyrations appear to be a macabre imitation of that dangerous, fatal pastime. Within the past week, heads have rolled with a frequency that French revolutionaries might have envied. A prime minister — Yousuf Raza Gilani — who aimed at the finishing post of a five-year term ahead was suddenly unseated by the Supreme Court and sent home. Home to him though is the presidency, the safe haven that he knows will provide him the same immunity from prosecution that he sacrificed his prime ministership for.
His successor Raja Pervez Ashraf has decided to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, even if they lead to the door marked exit. He has retained the same cabinet, he has succumbed to the pressure of the PML-Q and MQM and has scotched the possibility of any action — at least by him — reopening the Swiss cases against Zardari.
He is using the same argument that Gilani did, that the constitution provides the president immunity from prosecution. That is a given in any country, whether it is a monarchy, or a democracy or a dictatorship. The apex of the social system — whether a king, or a president or a despot (however benign) — symbolises the state and therefore the individual for the duration of his incumbency is immune from prosecution while still in office. In simple terms, it is the extension of the principle that a king can do no wrong, just as once the pope was deemed infallible, and the Bank of England claimed it never made a mistake.
Nowhere in the world is there any law, however, that holds any holder of public office immune from investigation. That is what made the ferreting by Woodward and Bernstein so lethal in the Watergate case, leading to the forced resignation of president Nixon and a post-facto pardon by his successor Gerald Ford. That was the basis upon which impeachment proceedings were initiated against Bill Clinton when still president. And that is what had brought former president Hosni Mubarak to a courtroom on his deathbed. It was the weight of evidence, not the outcome of the trial.
Whether the Supreme Court will make every future prime minister vulnerable to dismissal if it refuses to carry out its orders depends partly on how many stalwarts are left in the PPP prepared to commit hara-kiri for their leader.
The queue appears to be thinning out. Makhdoom Amin Fahim no longer is in the running; another Makhdoom — Shahabuddin — was qualified and then disqualified immediately; Aitzaz Ahsan is seen by the presidency as more useful as the antidote to the Supreme Court than in the cabinet; Husain Haqqani might have managed a Shaukat Aziz, had he not been too ambitious; and Dr Babar Awan has been taught the hard way the difference between (to use Eisenhower’s words) honest dissent and disloyal subversion.
To those who have remained loyal to the president, he has been as the Punjabis say ‘yaaran da yaar’. He has spread his cloak to cover persons who fled to a gilded exile during Musharraf’s bloodhound days.
Whoever does come in after this insecure prime minister or the one thereafter, he cannot escape the reality of the three Es: Energy, the Economy and Education. They will require the equivalent of at least two terms of any prime minister to resolve. The energy crisis did not grip us overnight; it was a monster allowed to grow unattended until it is now too large a menace to coax away with soft purrings. Dams, thermal power plants, pipelines will take five if not 10 years to be brought on line. It cannot be a good sign that the largest foreign investor in our energy sector (National Power International Holdings BV) has pulled out of Hubco.
It was said that foreign investors are like pigeons: they come one by one, but when they panic, they fly away all at once. Pigeons that have been fattening themselves in Pakistani markets are not waiting to hear the sound of danger; they are flying away one by one — American Express, HSBC, and Etisalat is holding back $800m for its acquisition of Pak Telecom. Our economy is only as good as we make it. It flourishes because of agriculture, industry, infrastructure and services. It cannot be expected to survive when each of these is in the decline.
The third E, education, requires a 13-year plan up to secondary level, for any child entering Class I is entitled to know what he will be studying by Class XII. The whole educational system worldwide is based on the concept of incremental learning. If everyone could pass 22 A levels in one sitting, there would be no need for any schools, only past papers or self-teaching manuals.
Building a country is like constructing a house. Because other people also have to live in it, their opinions — millions of them — matter. Political musical chairs are not the solution, nor is a dance in which scorpions decide who will be king.
What was the sting at the end of that fable? All the scorpions exhausted their venom, and finally a wiser scorpion who had kept aloof from the fray stepped in and stung the survivors into submission.
The writer is a former director of NTDC and an author.