If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand. Confucius The result of the Azad Kashmir elections has worked to instil a sense of urgency among the opposition parties in Pakistan. The PML-N Chief, Mian Nawaz Sharif, who was working on a strategy to take a solo flight and win the next general election, is now having second thoughts. The opposition parties were somewhat led to a state of complacency due to a massive media campaign against the coalition government in Islamabad. Many politicians believed that the PPP does not have a chance even to emerge as a second-string political entity after the next general elections. However, the perception has suddenly changed and a new strategy is being evolved, which would helpcobble up conservative political elements, if they have to put up a fight against the government. It seems that political parties, like JUI-F, MQM, PML-N and some elements of the PML-Q (likeminded), will glue together against the government to retain a majority in the National Assembly. While it may be too early to predict the outcome of the next elections, it can be safely said that no single party will be able to win a majority in the National Assembly on its own. Therefore, the next government will also be a coalition government like the present set-up. In any democratic set-up, however, a coalition government means a weakproposition and the issues related with the common man will remain unresolved for the foreseeable future. Yet, if the opposition is able to mount a serious challenge to the government, besides resolving the problems faced by the masses, then the PPP will surely lose the next elections. The present state of affairs has arisen mainly due to two reasons: Firstly, the fear of another military intervention by democratic forces and, secondly, the pursuit of dogma by some political parties in the country. Nevertheless, time will prove that the opportunities for uniting all the fractions of the Muslim League were wasted due to the PML-Ns rigid attitude. More so, MQM and Tehrik-e-Insaf have mostly remained at daggers drawn against one another - a situation that did not contribute in any way to the cause of the opposition. Terrorism and religious extremism, too, was another factor that fractured the rightwing political parties, who could not agree on a single solution to control terrorism in the country. Finally, Nawaz Sharif, who is naturally the leader of all the opposition groups, has decided that only with the formation of a grand alliance, it will be possible for them to have a chance against the federal government. However, as the opposition leaders move towards the formation of a weak political alliance, they must remember that it is going to be the resolution of basic issues that will become the deciding factor in the next elections. The policy of personalised politics will not help them to achieve their goals. The opposition must also be careful about Imran Khans increasing popularity, who may emerge as an alternative to the government and the opposition, since a vast majority of the people are not satisfied with the present politicians. This does not, however, mean that Imran will pose any serious threat to the already established political parties, or that he will play the role of a spoiler, who could have an impact on a closely contested election. While planning continues between the leaders of the opposition parties, it does not mean that the PPP and its coalition partners are sleeping. For all practical purposes, the government has so far succeeded in keeping the opposition divided with its policy of national reconciliation - a move that will continue to haunt the opposition parties, even after the next general elections. Next, the ruling party has planned to not only unsettle its political adversaries, but will also ensure that all the strong points available with the opposition are neutralised before the polling day. To achieve this, they are planning to establish a new province in Punjab that will seriously dent the political muscle of the PML-N. In addition, the PPPs decision not to allow local government elections in Sindh is bound to take a political toll on the MQM. In case local government elections are held in Sindh, it would provide a perfect launching pad to the MQM for the general elections; it is a proposition that has not been accepted by the party for obvious reasons. Also, the government may try to redraw the map of certain constituencies in urban Sindh, which will deprive MQM from the present advantages that it has in the National Assembly. Besides, it will try to ensure that the religious parties do not gather on one platform and thus may take the risk of inviting a few elements to join the PPP before the elections. Left on their own the religious parties do not command a mass following. As things stand today, the country will not only witness an extended political campaign for the elections, but will also see the date being pulled closer - thereby meaning that early elections may be held in Pakistan. The government will, probably, benefit from this decision because it may not allow the opposition to be united and become a force to be reckoned with like when the IGI was formed against the PPP. While the opposition remains divided, it will be in the governments interest to put its plan in place. That is to provide relief to the common man and tackle with some pressing economic problems. Anyway, the dynamics of general elections guide us that the government or the opposition may have elaborate plans of their own.Butsomething extraordinary can take place that may disturb the scheme of things that are being planned by government and opposition. It will be up to the entire political leadershipin the country to ensure that things do not get out of hand to an extent where it may become easy for someone to take advantage of the situation and defeat the democratic forces. They must remember that free and fair elections and submission to the will of the people is a requirement for Pakistans progress. Any force that tries to ignore or sidetrack this truth will damage the countrys vital interests. One hopes that in the coming weeks and months the people will not see an increase in sharp rhetoric by the politicians that will give rise to social upheaval, since it always carries the potential for intervention by anti-democratic forces that, of course, is not in the interest of the political parties and the nation. The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television. Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com