MORE than a month after the formation of the government the ruling coalition has not been able to resolve a vital issue that confronted it. The first round of London talks between Mian Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari ended inconclusively as the two sides failed to reach a consensus on the status of the judges who took oath under the November 3 PCO. This would bring no credit to the ruling leadership, particularly Mr Zardari who has continued to remind the nation that the pre-November 3 judiciary would be restored in line with the Bhurban Declaration. The coalition lost much valuable time in parleys, of which two lengthy sessions were held in Dubai and London, when momentous issues confronting the country required its presence in Pakistan. Food prices continue to increase. There is no respite from power breakdowns. The uncertainty created by the ruling leadership's lack of will to sort out differences has created conditions favourable to unscrupulous speculators who have caused the rupee's free fall by manipulating the currency market. The increase in oil prices, now touching $ 126 per barrel, has created serious challenges for the economy. The hopes entertained by millions of people, that the elected government would resolve their economic woes, are fast fading. The failure of the talks will have a disturbing effect on society. It would particularly cause dismay among a wide section of civil society, which in the presence of an unresponsive administration, had stared to pin hopes on judicial activism. As Mr Akhtar Mengal's statement indicates, the people in smaller provinces had also believed that an independent judiciary could help assuage some of their grievances. The legal community, which has keenly waited for the results of the London parleys, is likely to react strongly to the development. It is already boycotting the courts and holding protests on weekly basis. The lawyers' leadership is scheduled to announce its line of action on May 17. There is a need on the part of the PPP leadership to make further attempts to resolve the issue at the earliest. Meanwhile, it has to do whatever it takes to retain its alliance with the PML(N). A break-up of the coalition, with the departure of the PML(N) ministers from the federal cabinet being the first step in the direction, would constitute a victory for President Musharraf's camp, which is already putting pressure on the PML-Q to change its top leadership to make the party acceptable to Mr Zardari. With the PML(Q), MQM, PML (Functional), PPP (Sherpao) and NPP as new bedfellows, the PPP would be left with no choice but to accept dictation from the President who still remains armed with Article 58(2b). The PML(N) too has to realise that it is vital to retain the present coalition to bring the country out of the morass where it finds itself on account of the policies pursued since the military takeover in October 1999.