For a long time democracy in Pakistan has been in the intensive care unit. Every time it collapses, army plays the role of a surgeon, and every time when it happens, people take a sigh of relief. But as the treatment prolongs, the sigh of relief turns first into groans and then into cries of anguish. Scared, the surgeon runs to his barracks. For a while, the politicians stage a comeback. Democracy also comes out of the intensive care unit, though with an oxygen tank attached to its body. With a courageous smile on its face, it walks into the extended arms of the politicians. Their embrace makes people happy, but the politicians' embrace of democracy almost suffocates it to death. As usual, democracy goes back to the intensive care unit, with the old surgeon again attending to it. Would it happen this time again is perhaps too soon to say. The whole process has been so often repeated that it has become difficult to know whether it is democracy, which is sick or it is the surgeon or the politician who is sick. Whatever its demerits, one cannot blame democracy. One can trade a horse for an automobile but whether it serves one's need is determined more by the operator than the medium. Many a time in the history of Pakistan, the power operators, instead of being critical of their own intentions and abilities, absolved themselves of any wrongdoing. If at all someone was to be blamed, it was the people. Without giving any thought to improving the art of rule or statecraft, they indulged in new experiments. But since they were motivated by self-interests, the experiments failed. They ignore a simple principle, namely, that a system works only when it serves the good of the masses and not when it is made to serve an individual or a group. Second, it is not the system, no matter how well conceived, but the individual behind the system that can make it credible by managing it run successfully. Break up of an alliance is not a simple case of split that one may dismiss as an aberration but a shift in political configuration that people feel difficult to swallow. The PPP-PML union was not a patch up between two individuals, it involved people, for it not only fulfilled a political need but also answered a psychological urge in them for unity - something coming from their sense of insecurity. Ironically, politicians' desire to huddle together under a common umbrella is to save themselves from stroke by the heat caused by one-man rule that tries to expose their corruption, making them naked in the people's eyes. United political platforms are thus not necessarily for the nation - they are for self-preservation. In this sense, there is little difference between one-man rule that preserves itself and the politicians' desire to overthrow him. One may say that the fall of dictatorship is the rise of the common person - the supremacy of the popular intelligence - who by its wise use of vote brings politics back into the national discourse. True it may be the so-called political dispensation does not often result in the empowerment of the people. In fact, the post-electoral scene is tarnished by distention between the people and the politicians, with different grids to hang on. People expect unity, good governance, and deliverance while politicians think, exception allowed, it is just another time for grab. Their success at the polls also convinces them that people are emotional buffoons, gullible, and ignorant for had it not been so, they would not have received their confidence. If the past means anything, there are striking parallels. The story of Combined Political Parties (COP), United Democratic Front (UDF), Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), and Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) is one of betrayal, an insult to common man's intelligence. Their dissolution from a unified plank to bickering foes caused an immediate problem of perception for the people. For them, it was a paradox. The political forces could have resolved it. When they did not, the paradox swallowed them. That people have a short memory may be true of the politicians. Common man does not forget, especially when he internalises an event, or when an event springs from his convictions. In fact, what is painfully endured is never forgotten. For democracy's sake, the political parties will have to recognise that their irresponsible attitude, their petty mindedness, and their moral and intellectual bankruptcy contributed to the failure of the political process more than anything else did. Recognition of their devastating role should help reinstitute democracy in Pakistan, which unfortunately is still not coming forth from them. This nation demands an apology from the politicians for their misdeeds and a promise not to repeat them. Equally important is the fact that any form of government, especially democratic, derives its stability from the stability in people's lives. By stability in people's lives, we mean absolute faith in the system to deliver inexpensive and quick justice. Second, the ability of the common person to buy food and have shelter. In fact, the latter is part of justice. Without these two important elements of stability in persons' lives, a society is vulnerable to extreme demands and prone to belief in simple solutions, leading to political subversion and authoritarianism. If Sharif-Zardari split has language to it, then it has spoken: it is a bad end of a good beginning; it also says that politicians like old parrots do not learn no matter how hard the circumstances are for the nation. Thus, to get out of the vicious cycle some attitudinal changes are called for. Once a government comes into office with due process of law, an amendment in the constitution should see to it that the new administration must not work under conditions of psychological siege and paranoia created by its opponents defeated at the polls. In the past, political parties have resorted to such practices with a pernicious desire to weaken the hold of a legitimate government on national affairs. This in turn set into motion a volcanic reaction among the people in power, whose sole concern shifted from attacking national problems to the consolidation of their eroding power base. Their exasperation manifested itself in gagging the press and adopting harsher measures against the right to free expression. But the embargo on street demonstrations and wild cat strikes should be constitutionally compensated by allowing political parties and labour unions to have access to the press, radio, and television. The media exposure extended to the leaders, in return, can have a healthy effect on their egos. It can help in sifting issues from personalities, engender greater awareness of problems and stave off confrontational situations in which political forces often found themselves trapped in the past. National Social Contract: The proposed constitutional amendment, however, will not change the political environment from polemics to leadership unless they are preceded by a campaign culminating in a pledge in the form of a National Social Contract. The proposed contract will have the signature of all the political parties, industry, labour, teachers, students, bureaucracy, and the army in front of the people on the television. The pledge may read as follows: We swear by Almighty Allah and making the people of Pakistan as our witness that we wholeheartedly subscribe to the idea of democracy wherein none but the elected representatives of our people will have the right to rule for a four-year term unless re-elected for another term. That once such an elected government comes into being, whether as a coalition or a thin majority, we will cooperate with it and shall not do anything to subvert its mandate to rule, including street demonstrations, public meetings, strikes and so forth. That the government in power, in return, will ensure that there will be no harassment of the political parties or their workers. That all channels of communication, such as radio, TV, and newspapers, will be kept open to recognised leaders of public opinion, including political parties, unions and so forth to criticise the acts and policies of the government and its organs. Needless to say since a National Social Contract will be televised in the form of a pledge, it should lift Pakistani politics from its agitational and irresponsible mould and create a peaceful environment for a national re-awakening in which everybody may feel responsible. It should give the party-to-enter-power a confidence and a hope that its opponents will not disrupt its hard won tenure. It will provide opportunity to the parties outside the sanctum of power to air their views on governmental policies in the assembly, radio, TV, and newspapers. This recognition itself will take the sting out of them. They will feel respected and their ego satisfied. We think this should strengthen democracy and ensure stability. Now it is for the politicians to act. The writer is a senior research fellow of the Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad