Table talks ... Daily The News lahore
10-02-2011

Table talks
 Thursday, February 10, 2011
 The humble table has featured large in national politics in the last thirty-six hours. The announcement by the president that he is to hold a Roundtable Conference (RTC) in the hope of evolving a broad based consensus on how to resolve the innumerable problems that beset us; has been greeted by a wave of apathy on all sides. It is an old management axiom that when you want to avoid doing something, call a meeting. If you really want to ensure that the meeting has zero productivity, then don’t specify a date, and cap the whole thing off by not having an agenda. Thus, we have the prospect of the Knights of the Round Table swanning around in the murk, aware that the trumpet has sounded to call them to a meeting but having no idea where the meeting is to be or what they are to discuss beyond the shape of the table – which at first glance appears to be round. Words like ‘broad based consensus’ and ‘critical economic issues’ hang in the air, and we are assured that consultations are to be held in preparation of the RTC to ensure that the noble Knights are all reading off the same page by the time they find out the date, place and running order of the meeting.

A table which is large and rectangular and sits in the Cabinet Office, today finds itself empty. Prime Minister Gilani has accepted the letters of resignation of the 60-plus Cabinet members and the Cabinet now stands dissolved pending the appointment of a new group of avaricious toadies. The Cabinet does, at least, have the benefit of an agenda when it meets and has some idea what it is going to talk about. The PM presided over the last meeting of the present group and congratulated it on its sterling efforts; saying that 77 per cent of Cabinet targets had been met. He neglected to mention that the real reason the Cabinet was being dissolved was not a sense of pressure to bring it in line with the 18th Amendment – if only because under the 18th Amendment there is no requirement to ‘right-size’ the Cabinet until after the next general election – but the stink of corruption arising from its collective membership. How many will sit around the table when the process is finished is yet unclear, but there will be a core group of members of the old cabinet who will stay on and provide a degree of continuity. How the new Cabinet and the RTC will interact, whether a Cabinet agenda will emerge from the deliberations of the Knights of the Round Table is again unclear. Both groups go in search of the Grail of stability, consensus and fiscal probity. But there are no Lancelots or Galahads to be seen anywhere, and Excalibur is more sword than any of these men and women can lift.