The mammoth fall the ruling coalition has suffered in the public mind within the first six weeks of its coming into power is a grave indication of the paralysis it has been afflicted with from its very inception. The games played of late and their downside has unfolded another intriguing chapter of its not-so-edifying performance. The postponement of the by-polls by the Election Commission at the instance of the Advisor on Interior Affairs Rehman Malik is a sordid example of the prevalent lack of accountability in managing the affairs of the State. The statement of the NWFP Chief Minister accusing the Advisor of having asked the provincial government to request for a postponement of the by-elections on account of the law and order situation as the other three provinces had already done so was a clear indictment of Rehman Malik for having conspired a delay in the by-polls. This was later substantiated by the Secretary, Election Commission, who contended that the by-elections had been put off on the insistence of the Advisor on Interior Affairs. The critical question that arises is whether Rehman Malik was acting alone in this matter, or was he playing someone else's game? It is difficult to imagine that he acted by himself unless he was completely oblivious of the grave consequences of such an undemocratic move. This, by itself, would be a scary prospect to ponder about a person who is ostensibly managing the most critical ministry in the current environment. But, if he was not alone in playing the game that was specifically targeted at stopping Shahbaz Sharif from becoming the Chief Minister of Punjab, who were his sponsors? Since every one, including the leaderships of all the political parties as well as the presidency, have denied any prior knowledge about the ill-fated move, it would be appropriate to proceed by way of ascertaining as to who would have benefited the most from it. It is no secret that General Musharraf would hate to see Shahbaz Sharif take over as the Chief Minister of the largest province of the country and he would not deem any move beyond reckoning to stall that. The fact that there is only the by-election standing between Shahbaz Sharif and his assumption of the office of the Chief Minister of Punjab would help us understand the importance of the forthcoming polls in the context of the weird game that may have its origin in the Camp Office. If this premise were true, should we proceed to assume that Rehman Malik was the pawn used by General Musharraf for furthering his undemocratic and unconstitutional agenda? Or, is it that Asif Zardari was also a part of the game plan?  The streamlining of the fallback position by the co-chairperson of the PPP is no small indication of his possible involvement in the devious machinations to have the by-polls postponed. His speedy arrangement with the MQM, over-riding the long-standing national demand for exhaustive enquiries into the carnage of May 12 and March 9 to determine the role of the MQM in these tragedies, is only one aspect of the overall game plan. The other is the purported move to shed the PML-Q of the presence of the Chaudhry clan and deliver it to the PPP as a partner of the coalition in the event PML-N opts out as a consequence of the persisting differences over the restoration of the judges as on November 2. The concurrent rumour doing the rounds is about the task assigned to the sitting governor of Punjab to work on the numbers game without the PML-N. The initial demand of the PML-N to initiate proceedings against Rehman Malik made a lot of sense as an impartial enquiry would have helped the nation learn about the person, or persons, who were spearheading anti-democracy moves in the country. Its lack of insistence and follow-up after the reversal of the decision by the Election Commission is also an indication of the nature and magnitude of the pressures that are being applied from the hidden quarters. The unconditional acceptance of the much-castigated NRO has become a principal yardstick for the induction of all present and potential partners in the coalition. While PML-N has not been overtly or excessively critical of the NRO, it has also not conceded, in any manner so far, as to its illegality and unconstitutionality in the larger national domain. As a matter of fact, unlike the PPP leaders, it has meticulously resisted the temptation of reaping any of the possible dividends of the NRO. This, together with the continuing differences over the manner of the restoration of over sixty judges, is an issue that may be unsettling for the leadership of the PPP and its patrons. What is critical to the game plan is the linkage between the PPP, a so-called democratic party and a major partner in the ruling coalition, and General Musharraf who continues to wear the hat of being the 'president' of Pakistan in defiance of all legality and constitutionality. The two are inextricably linked by virtue of the benefits that have accrued to them as a consequence of the grand compromise struck under the patronage of the United States of America and its smaller partners in the international gambit. The PPP and General Musharraf are only two small pieces on the chessboard. They will be toyed with as long as they remain beneficial in furthering the agenda of the international coalition. Once they become redundant, they would be dispensed with without the slightest recrimination. While General Musharraf may willingly resign to this eventuality, it would cause immense damage to the democratic pretensions of the PPP. The question is whether the PPP leadership is abreast of this consequence and is willing to go along irrespective, or whether it has yet to assimilate the full magnitude of the fallout of this dangerous game it is playing in cahoots with General Musharraf. The answer to the initial question regarding the role of Rehman Malik in the now aborted move to have the by-polls delayed may be hidden in finding an answer to this linkage. In any event, the double game being played by the PPP and General Musharraf in the national arena may cast serious repercussions for the future of democracy in the country. The apparent lack of sincerity being displayed by the PPP leadership, at the behest of General Musharraf or otherwise, is a disturbing thought to contemplate in the larger context of the grave challenges that the government is so deeply beset with. E-mail: