ISLAMABAD"It was unnatural. Disparate entities, cobbled together to make up one monster of a coalition. The country had never quite seen anything like it. Three parties that essentially hated each other. Not just enmity between individuals but an abhorrence for basic ideologies as well. And a bloody history to boot. Soon, a fourth group from a fringe on the right joined up as well. This was the stuff Greek tragedies are made out of. You knew things would get messy. The big questions were how and when. There was an obvious answer to this question: differences over the restoration of the judges. Even before the February 18th elections, the PPP had been skirting unequivocal statements on the restoration. But, to be fair, the first time the PPP and the PML-N expressed a wish to work together was the Charter of Democracy of October, 2006, where the judges did figure in the declaration: "The recommendations for appointment of judges to superior judiciary shall be formulated through a commission, which shall comprise of the following: i. The chairman shall be a chief justice, who has never previously taken oath under the PCO. This was before last year's dismissal of Iftikhar Chaudhry. He was, in other words, the sort of person the two parties did not take kindly to. Fast forward to February 18th, leaving out the lifetimes that encompassed the lawyers' movement and the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The PPP, PML-N and the ANP participate in the polls as independent parties. The PML-N comes a surprisingly close second to the PPP, emerging as the biggest party in the Punjab whereas the ANP emerges as the largest party in the NWFP Assembly.   The ANP-PPP coalition got NWFP, with the Redshirts in charge; the PPP-PML-N alliance got Punjab, with the Leaguers in charge. And the quadrangular alliance got the centre, with the PPP in charge. And here meet the strange bedfellows, with opposition to military rule the only thing common amongst them. It was a marriage of convenience, a shot gun marriage and a tempestuous love affair all rolled into one. These were very different parties. From the center-left PPP, with its iconic but vague populism; to the centre-right PML-N, with newly acquired mammoth populism of its own, having once being the "Q" of its times; to the centre-left ANP, with its mix of secular-socialism with ethnic nationalism and Congress folklore. Added to this motley crew was the far right's JUI-F, primarily for its attractive senatorial profile. Then there was the prospect (unrealized till now) of the MQM, with its supposedly liberal credentials and control over the nation's financial capital because of its unique - how to put it delicately? - "activism." The PPP and the PML-N went on to sign the Murree Declaration of 9th of March, with its 30-day deadline for the restoration of the judges. The 29th of April whizzed by; the judges were not restored. The hiccup: the PML-N wanted restoration through a resolution of the National Assembly, the PPP said it wanted to do it through a constitutional package. After some bickering came the Dubai parleys of May, with the 12th as the deadline, which came and went. This time, it was too embarrassing for the PML-N to let the status quo remain. They decided to quit their cabinet portfolios. Thus started a period of heightened tumult, which ended only in the August announcement of an agreement to impeach the then President Pervez Musharraf, the one thing on which all coalition partners were on the same page. As a sign of goodwill, the PML-N sent four of its ministers back to the cabinet, with the rest to join when the judges would be restored, which they were told would be restored within 24 hours of the impeachment. Pre-empting that disgrace, Pervez Musharraf resigned as President. It was like Eid before Ramzan. A euphoria undertook the nation, the rupee gained against the dollar, the stock market rose and so did the coalition's political stock. The euphoria began to ebb when it transpired there still wasn't an agreement on the judges' issue. The PML-Q will become a decisive factor now in what game-theorists call a "zero-sum" game. Despite what both the parties might say at this point, it's a winner-takes-all situation. That is, if the PPP is to stay in power in the centre, it has to topple the PML-N in the Punjab. Conversely, if the PML-N is to stay in power in the Punjab, they will have to take on the PPP in the centre. Things might be tilted in the PPP's favour and the numbers might not suggest this at the moment, but who knows what will happen in the great gold rush of the PML-Q and independents? And who knows where the wily Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman would go. And the Redshirt announcement to back Asif Ali Zardari as President was before the PML-N split. Who knows where they might stand now?