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Plan A is the legalistic, conciliatory route. Lawyers untainted by political affiliations would be recruited to argue the government’s various defences in the Supreme Court.
The arguments would be sophisticated and respectful and would be focused on turning the tables on the court legally.

Plan B is the political, confrontational route. Politicians-cum-lawyers would make noisy submissions before the court. They would cry about BB being put on trial. They would claim fraud and bias. They would allege a witch-hunt against Zardari. They would challenge the court to throw them in jail.

Guess which route, rumour has it, has been opted for? (Hint: it’s not Plan A.)

The Land of a Thousand Conspiracies is slipping into overdrive again. That briefest of lulls that was the orgy of self-congratulation over the 18th Amendment is gone. All everyone wants to know is where the next crisis will come from.

Some think it may be the PML-N because Sharif now has a clear route to the prime minister’s house. Except summer is a bad time for elections and few in Punjab will have the appetite for electioneering under the scorching sun. Expect to hear from them post-summer.

Others think it may be the army, for reasons unspecified but presumably because the generals don’t really like Zardari. Except Kayani’s term expires in November and the PPP has surrendered the foreign policy and national security domains to the army. There isn’t much reason to strike at present.

Which leaves that simmering battle between the judiciary and the PPP. Privately PPP leaders and non-partisan observers are convinced that the ruckus over the 18th Amendment has been engineered by those with a get-Zardari agenda. It doesn’t help that the petitioners challenging the amendment have a thinly veiled dislike for Zardari and gang.
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Plus there’s the little issue of the NRO judgment and the Swiss cases. Little is known about the fate of the vast majority of the other 8,040 erstwhile NRO beneficiaries. Beneficiary No 8,041, or No 1 (depending on your perspective), Asif Zardari, is a separate matter.

The paranoid in the presidential circle worry about everything from a bid to unseat their boss to a vast conspiracy to keep the PPP on the ropes come what may. The hard-ballers are urging throwing caution to the wind and confronting their tormentors. Hence all the talk about Plan A and Plan B and the like. Predictably, the more sensible voices are being heard the least above the cacophony. Those voices are suggesting that the PPP is facing a crisis alright, but it’s not really of the kind exercising the minds of most.

The crisis is with the electorate and what it may be thinking. Word is slowly coming in from the far corners of Pakistan and the message is uniformly grim: the PPP is poised for an epic battering if a snap poll were to be held.

The reasons are not difficult to discern. Fixing them, though, is a difficulty of an order of magnitude greater than the party’s judicial travails. Inflation, unemployment, commodity shortages, massive rolling blackouts — the litany of complaints is familiar.

What’s compounding the problem though is the sense that the PPP leadership has been out of touch. It’s one thing to be crushed — actual voters are long used to suffering and being let down by their elected representatives — it’s quite another to feel like nobody cares you’re being crushed.

Partly to counter that feeling, Zardari, Gilani and others have taken their show on the road in recent weeks. A battered and depressed electorate needs leadership and it needs that leadership to be visible, a realisation slowly sinking in with the PPP leaders.

The problems are, of course, vexing. Consider this: the wheat support price has more than nearly doubled on the present government’s watch, which is a good thing for farmers but bad for non-farmers. But even the good has a way of becoming bad.

The last support-price increase was in September 2008 but because inflation has remained stubbornly high, farmers aren’t quite as happy as they were earlier. Yet neither is there the fiscal space to nudge up the support price nor may this necessarily be a good idea (a higher wheat support price has a severe impact on overall inflation).
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True, the government has partly made its own bed: inflation has stayed stubbornly high in part because the government has failed to control the fiscal deficit. But the point is there are no easy political choices at the moment.

Much of this gets shouted down in the media echo chamber, which follows a logic of its own. Tune in to the media and you would think the government lives and dies by things such as 18th Amendment and corruption.

Yes, corruption is rampant at present and it is being practised with a chutzpah that has stunned even the most jaded of observers. And yes, the voter in Khairpur and Mianwali and D.I. Khan cares about corruption. But it’s not the type of corruption that vexes the media, the kind at the top, in Islamabad and the provincial capitals.

The voter cares about local corruption. His goat is stolen; her in-laws have beaten her; the family’s land has been taken over — can any of them rely on the police and lower judiciary to do their jobs without being bribed? The folks in Islamabad steal; they always have and they always will. Electorally more relevant is corruption at the local level.

And all this business of the NFC award and the 18th Amendment may warm the cockles of the structuralist’s heart, but it doesn’t pay the bills or put food on the table or install the unemployed in factories.

The media mavens may ‘get’ that such first-order issues need to be resolved before second-order troubles, the everyday stuff, can be meaningfully and systematically addressed. But media mavens don’t vote and even if they do, there aren’t that many of them anyway.

So if there is a crisis facing the PPP is facing, it’s the unglamorous one that has drawn little scrutiny so far. It’s exciting to talk about judiciary-executive wars, PML-N conspiracies and army coups. But governments don’t necessarily live or die by the fun and exciting stuff.

The sober voices in the PPP understand that there should only be one plan: Plan A, rescue the economy.