Pakistani politics has clearly entered a new phase with the fiery speech delivered by Mian Nawaz Sharif on May 28 before a large crowd in Lahore to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the nuclear test. That speech signifies a point of no return between the two coalition partners irrespective of the colour and shape of the mask of civility they may continue to wear. The fact is that Mian Saheb has cast the die and cannot turn back. So what is in store for Pakistan is the most commonly asked question these days? First, let us look at the relative strength and weaknesses of the three protagonists, President Musharraf, Asif Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif. As for President Musharraf, theoretically he still holds the power to dismiss the governments and dissolve the assemblies and make all important appointments under 58-2(b) and 17th Amendment. But he is, in reality, a much-weakened president and is unlikely to use these powers in the present circumstances. He is also unlikely to get adequate support from the army in case he decides to use them and will be effectively challenged by his opponents in the streets of Pakistan. But all that does not mean that he is yet prepared to throw in the towels. As for the PPP leader, his behaviour since February 18, 2008 has been rather erratic. His summersaults have evoked so many epithets in mind that it is difficult to say where he stands, what does he want and why? He has tried to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, ride two horses at the same time, eat his cake and have it too and so on so forth. However, while he has saved Musharraf and frustrated PML-N leader he has not broken his and the lawyers resolve. Hence, even though 60 days have passed and the Bhurban remains unimplemented, he has also jeopardised the coalition, generated discontent in his own party and lost popularity in the masses as manifested by the public response to Mian Nawaz Sharif's speech on May 28 in Lahore and the very well attended conventions of the lawyers in Faisalabad on May 24 and in Peshawar on May 31. As for Mian Nawaz Sharif, his popularity has certainly increased not only in Punjab but in other parts of Pakistan because of his consistency and principled stand. His detractors are not at all happy with his rising graph. They are hoping that he will make a mistake or his MNAs and MPAs would form a forward block. Their attempt to get him disqualified from contesting the by-election for a NA seat has also failed. But Mian Nawaz's popularity is partly based on President Musharraf's unpopularity. The fact that more than 120 senior retired officers of the armed forces of Pakistan have passed more than one resolution calling for his resignation is not only unprecedented but likely to have a negative impact on the rank and file of serving personnel of the armed forces. In this backdrop it is surprising that the PPP co-chairman should try so hard to circumvent the unequivocal commitment he made in the Bhurban Accord to reinstate the judges. Why is he doing that when it is creating fissures in the party, creating personal credibility problem, reducing PPP's popularity, keeping the nation in tension, distracting the government from dealing with serious national crises of inflation, food shortages, growing poverty, persisting load shedding etc. So why he is not honouring the Bhurban Accord, what is he afraid of or what does he stand to gain from it? These are some of the questions being discussed in every drawing room every day for the last two months. The list of answers is equally impressive. He is keeping to his part of the NRO; he is afraid that Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, if reinstated, will undo NRO and reopen the criminal cases against Mr Zardari; he cannot defy Bush who wants Musharraf in and CJ out; he has hefty bank balance abroad which he wants to protect and so on. These are all guess work because no one knows the truth and the PPP leader's constantly changing position and attempt to "fool all the people all the time" on the judges' issue is generating all kinds of rumours and speculations. His various stances like he "does not want to undo an illegal act by another illegal act," that he wants to bring about a comprehensive reform through a constitutional package, that he wants an independent judiciary and not only an independent judge, he does not want confrontation with President Musharraf though he has become a relic of the past etc are all untenable and have been convincingly refuted by eminently qualified people and the political logic of the present day situation in Pakistan. For example, more than 20 retired judges of the Supreme and High Courts of Pakistan, including some CJs and an overwhelming majority of SC lawyers have opined that all the decisions taken by President Musharraf on November 3 were illegal and unconstitutional and therefore have not become a part of the constitution. Consequently no constitutional amendment is required to reinstate the judges. As against them only a handful of lawyers, all associated with Musharraf hold a contrary view, yet Mr Zardari is listening to them and not to the majority view. This makes his position both indefensible and undemocratic. As for confrontation, it seems unavoidable, either with the lawyers, PML-N and a majority of the people on the one hand or with Musharraf on the other. However, while confrontation with the former looks certain it is not so certain with the latter. Hence for the leader of a democratic party to abandon democratic forces to avoid confrontation with an unpopular military ruler seems odd, to say the least. Moreover, it creates two kinds of doubts about Mr Zardari: 1) Either he does not understand the people's verdict given on February 18 or 2) He does not want to respect it. In both cases he and his party stand to loose. In the face of such "clear and present" threat to his own political future and that of his party, PPP leader's attempt to prolong Musharraf's presidency by such measures as the 62 point impassable constitutional package only aggravates the doubts about his real reasons for doing so. Could it be that Musharraf knows something that Mr Zardari does not want revealed at any cost?Whatever may be the case, PPP's co-chairman is facing a dilemma which even his charming smile cannot hide. The writer is a former ambassador E-mail: