Mr Asif Zardari having been elected the country's 12th president, beating his rivals by a wide margin, has some hard tasks ahead, the hardest being to clean his tainted image further tarnished by his betrayal of the coalition partners and backtracking on promises. Pity the poor soul. The Machiavellian moves he made since his party returned to power after the general elections probably turned him into the most controversial politician. Nobody trusts him when he speaks of the things he actually wants to do. Purging the presidency of the draconian powers to derail democracy may be his earnest desire but there is an awesome credibility gap in translating words into actions. If his ascendancy to the coveted position begins with a sort of trust-deficit he is himself to blame. That the so-called transition to democracy is being viewed with scepticism is not without a rationale. Stepping into Musharraf's shoes is one whose politicking over the last five months is replete with broken promises and who seems determined to uphold the legacy of the most repressive dictatorship this beleaguered country has ever witnessed. Musharraf must be happy to see his successor pick up the thread from where he left. If he had given a free run to the Americans for bombing our territory and killing our citizens the current dispensation under Mr Zardari will be equally supine not to tell the aggressors to respect our sovereignty. A muted response to the NATO-led coalition forces' direct attack into our tribal area that left 20 dead and scores of others injured points to the so-called democratic dispensation further capitulating to the US diktat in the days to come. By claiming the responsibility for this attack the Bush Administration has signalled its complete disregard for our territorial integrity. It has never been the case during Musharraf era. At least enough time was then given to cover up such outrages. A case in point is the bombing of a Bajaur madrassah in 2006 in which over 80 persons were killed, including children between ages 10 and 12. Long after the American helicopter gunships had gone our fighter planes were seen flying over the destroyed seminary. This was then followed up by an "excellency-isn't-it-unfair?" sort of protest with the US Ambassador at Islamabad. Perhaps Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi is not the type to mince his words. So he might have thought of keeping mum instead of risking his job that keeps him junketeering round the globe at official expense. Mr Zardari may well be the only person to tell the nation how his government is going to protect our sovereignty and stave off the combative White House from turning Pakistan into a rentier state. There is no denying that General Musharraf and Mr Zardari share some stark similarities like their hatred for Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhmmad Chaudhry as well as their fondness for a pliant judiciary. But Mr Zardari has certain advantages over his predecessor. He can derive more strength by restoring the supremacy of Parliament and reverting to the PM the powers the dictator had arrogated to himself by getting the 17th Amendment bulldozed through Parliament with the collaboration of a treacherous clergy. Those who believed that Mr Zardari having matured a great deal is no nonsense a person to destabilise the system by further driving his estranged partners against the wall have to sincerely endeavour to prevent him from lending an ear to those who might be advising him to go for a kill for their own vested interests. It is time for him to look for saner counsels than rely on the likes of Governor Salman Taseer and Manzoor Wattoo whose desperation to take over Punjab may turn out to be a throwback to the 1990s. But if Mian Shahbaz Sharif is optimistic that Mr Zardari will not destabilise his government, then there is a background to it. Between themselves they know who owes how much to the other and perhaps it is a payback time for Mr Zardari for the favour Mian Shahbaz had done to him when the much-maligned Saifur Rehman was trying to get even with him. Apart from this, they know the intricacies of running a coalition better than Mian Nawaz Sharif who is being prevented from shedding his obduracy by certain hawks in the party. Let Mian Nawaz slightly tax his memory to realise when it was the last time Ch Nisar Ali Khan and his petty Lahori version Pervez Rashid had rendered him any good advice. Last but not the least. The two mainstream parties despite having parted ways hold the key to salvage the country from the crisis it is currently facing. The initiative must come from Mr Zardari who needs sincere friends rather than sycophants to help him conduct himself in a manner befitting the President and Supreme Commander of the armed forces of Pakistan. E-mail: sarmad@nation.com.pk