President Asif Ali Zardari has assumed the mantle of something like a magician or juggler, who can pull a rabbit out of the hat at any time. Everything he does, or does not do, these days is construed sinister and as complex as a spider’s web. A variety of his glib spokespersons entrusted to defend his moves only add to the confusion in their repetitive verbosity on the television channels and rowdy debates on the floor of the house.

The post-memogate environment got murkier with his sudden dash to the Emirates in the middle of heightened tensions at home, apparently, due to a health scare. Everyone claiming to be in the know of things appeared as ill-informed of the facts as the common man in the street. The faithful argued that the off-springs had commanded the President to hop on a plane at a moment’s notice to be treated at a hospital in Dubai (that can hardly be termed as the best in the world). The sceptics speculated about all kinds of possibilities, including a great escape. Meanwhile, the heir made a sudden appearance in Islamabad, unscheduled and quite out of the blue, to preside over a party meeting and be presented to the media wrapped in a traditional chaddar. It appeared for a while like a space is being created for the son to be substituted.

While people were urged to pray for a speedy recovery of the Head of State, others waved an article of the Constitution that provides for the removal of the President on grounds of being incapacitated. As the tirade of accusations and wild speculations grew, no one was wiser to the fact whether one should pray for the medical tests of a routine check-up to come out right, or the president to emerge unscathed from the political onslaught of the rivals that seemed to spring out from all nooks and corners and in all forms and shapes.

The situation got further aggravated by the appalling revelation made by the Prime Minister on the floor of the house that no hospital in Pakistan was secure enough for the President - being the primary target of the terrorists. He also spoke of the conspiracies that were being hatched against the State, the President and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The alleged conspirators were never identified, though even the dumbest could read between the lines. It was a sad acknowledgment of the incompetence of the government that could neither protect its Head of State, nor foil the alleged conspiracies. For some time, it appeared that the government had thrown in the towel. As usual, the President surprised everyone by making an appearance in the middle of the night to his fortified retreat of Bilawal House in Karachi, as mysteriously as he had departed.

If any measures are being taken for damage control to stabilise the uncertainties, they must be under deep cover, as they do not seem to be working. The government has been besieged, both internally and externally. The army is tightening the noose and the judiciary is entertaining anything that may put the government on the mat. A third political force of PTI has emerged with a bang that is threatening to eat into the ranks of the PPP electables, along with the PML-N and others. The Americans are twisting our arm mercilessly on all counts and the international financial institutions under their influence have withdrawn their monetary support. Our traditional rainy day Arab friends do not want to know us anymore. We are globally isolated and despised.

The Wall Street Journal published an article alleging that the President had made a brief ‘cameo appearance’ and will soon take permanent abode in London or Dubai (a reflection of our image in the Western media). However, to the disappointment of the detractors, the President is back in the saddle and business has resumed as usual!

He declared himself fighting fit, laughed at the popularity wave of Imran Khan during his address to the rally at the fourth death anniversary of his wife. He fired warning shots towards the Chief Justice whom he addressed directly and expressed his mild defiance to the American dictates. He had no plans to offer that would arrest the nose-diving economy, or rescue the national assets from the verge of bankruptcy, as the rupee slides, inflation escalates, productivity is falling, foreign direct investment is non-existent, and essential services breaking down with both gas and electricity in short supply at exorbitant rates. About the same time, a jiyala committed suicide and a group of poverty-stricken workers of his own party were demonstrating outside, demanding the promised roti, kapra and makaan. Yet, the President is upbeat. All is well in the State of Pakistan.

The people still believe and see their ultimate salvage in a democratic system of government. But the performance of major political parties at the centre and in the provinces has proved to be singularly inept in running effective governments, low in moral conduct and perpetually in a confrontational mode. Their shortcomings and disunity have disappointed the public that is now clamouring for a change. It is the lack of maturity of our system in which personal interests override national interests, the governments refuse to accept responsibility and insist on prolonging their rule leading to self-destruction. It is in circumstances like this, that extra-constitutional possibilities raise their heads.

On December 30, a nine-member bench of the Supreme Court declared the petition seeking a probe into the memo controversy maintainable. The defence lawyer called it a service to the establishment and against the fundamental rights of the people. Others termed it as another opportunity for the government to come clean and cooperate with the court appointed Judicial Commission, if they have nothing to hide. The PPP sees another conspiracy. Each interpretation manifests an angle of self-interest. What kind of nation are we building and what kind of a message are we transmitting to our future generations, if we do not accept a unanimous verdict of the highest court in the land and consider it tainted? As of now, the plot thickens as to who masterminded the memo and to what extent the reverberations will be felt. Let us wait and see how successfully the magician concludes this act!     

The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur.