The war of nerves between President Asif Ali Zardari and the PML-N has entered its final phase. Most cards are now exposed, bugles of war sounded and the march towards a decisive victory has commenced. The wisdom gained during the long periods of victimisation and exile of the PPP and PML-N leaders and the eight year struggle waged jointly by their party workers to restore parliamentary democracy, independence of judiciary, rule of law and strong institutions, set the course of mutual tolerance and coexistence for future Pakistani political parties through a carefully deliberated and compiled Charter of Democracy signed by both national leaders in London. This spirit of national brotherhood survived the assassination of the charismatic PPP chairperson but fell victim to the greed of absolute power soon after the PPP emerged as the largest party in the February 18 elections. After skilfully neutralising all major parties by taking them on board with a share in the pie and securing the presidency by an overwhelming majority, the PPP co-chairman diverted his assault towards winning the grand prize of Punjab. The PML-N Quaid, disgruntled at being outmanoeuvred by a relative novice and failing to get any of his demands fulfilled or agreements honoured, refused to play ball and escalated the stakes in a 'winner takes all' gambit with the help of the Jamaat-i-Islami's organisational capability and the sympathy wave for the lawyers movement, making Punjab his bastion to stop the Zardari assault. Short-sighted politicians are once again looking at short-term gains completely overlooking the national interest and the bureaucracy is playing the hand maiden. A Supreme Court verdict of electoral disqualification of the two Sharif brothers was expedited and the Punjab government was sacked in order to take the wind out of the sails of the March 16 (today) sit-in and the long march scheduled to leave Lahore for Islamabad on March 15. All anti-PPP forces joined forces in the proposed show down that may be a moment of truth for the PML-N, amid hectic efforts of rapprochement from all possible international and domestic quarters. With all executive powers and resources of Punjab in his hands and the central government behind him, the Punjab governor has assumed the formidable task of stopping or diluting the long march and putting together the number of Provincial Assembly members required to install a PPP or a protege chief minister in the Punjab. PML-N has switched into a strategic Zardari specific confrontational mode in an attempt to divide the PPP and to isolate presidency from the Parliament. The country has been pushed back to the era of horse trading, civil disturbance and political victimisation at a time when NATO forces are launching missile attacks freely inside our territory, most of NWFP is practically under siege of religious militants and Balochistan is under threat. The citizens are overburdened with inflation and shortages and no street is safe from bomb attacks. Our financial managers run from pillar to post with begging bowls in their hands to sustain the solvency of the economy only to find our friends turn their heads the other way. Who needs external enemies when we ourselves tear each other apart? Numerous articles published in Indian and Western press during the last few years have been forecasting disintegration of Pakistan due to internal political instability, external contradictions and failure of the successive governments during the last sixty years to consolidate the federation. Numerous maps balkanising parts of Pakistan drawn by various Western think tanks have appeared on the Internet. We must pay heed to those warnings. The Bengali Muslims that played the most significant role in the struggle leading to the creation of Pakistan have already separated when our army commander Lt General A A K(Tiger) Niazi surrendered to the Indian General Aurora in Dhaka on December 16, 1971 handing over 70,000 Pakistani prisoners of war to the Indian conquerors. Parallels are being drawn to the similarities of today's events with those of 1971 when Awami League led by Mujeebur Rehman was denied the right to form the government at the centre, despite a clear overall numerical majority in the general elections called by President General Yahya Khan on one man one vote basis in the two provinces of West and East Pakistan that comprised Pakistan at the time. PPP gained a majority in West Pakistan while Awami League had a landslide in East Pakistan and won the largest number of National Assembly seats. The Awami League was kept engaged in futile negotiations without calling the Parliament session, as the armed forces and the PPP had reservations about the patriotism of the Bengali leader. Mujeebur Rehman was arrested and Governor Rule was imposed in East Pakistan. Talks were abandoned and brute force was used to suppress the Bengali nationalist rebellion in East Pakistan that fuelled the already simmering resentment against the West Pakistanis. East Pakistan (more than half of Pakistan) broke away and declared independence renaming it Bangladesh after considerable blood had been shed. The one year process of conciliation talks between the two largest political parties has once again become the victim of mutual distrust and a course of no holds barred confrontation has been set between the two. The urgency of unification to strengthen the federation, to combat the menace of terrorism and militancy and stabilising the economy has been pushed to the back burner. The Governor Rule in Punjab, the call for civil disobedience and the possible adverse repercussions of the lawyers long march and sit-in are unfolding a similarity to the 1971 events that can be a source of glee only to the common Indian and American political objectives. The NATO forces on our northern and Indian forces on our western borders are closely watching and monitoring our internal frictions and divisiveness. Do we want to give either or both of these forces an excuse to move in? The heavy Indian army build up is directed against neighbouring Pakistan and China, both considered as threats and defined in its national interest as enemies along its 14,000 km borders. The Americans may be the biggest trading partner of China at present, but their long-term wide ranging collaboration with India is aimed towards containing the Chinese in the region both militarily and economically. At the same time, the Indians have developed considerable influence in Sindh and Balochistan from where they are engaged in subversion against Pakistan. With the collaboration of the Americans, they are now deeply entrenched in Afghanistan that they consider to be the gateway of all invasions of India and where they want to secure Central Asian energy routes. Pakistan is construed as an arm of China that both the Indians and Americans would prefer to keep under check by perpetuating instability and dependency on American favours. We should have no illusion of our present alliance that is confined to the American objective of crushing the jihadis' capability of launching attacks on the Western capitals. Once that goal is achieved, we will be dumped and the broader Indo-American alliance will be activated to gain regional supremacy. Our internal social diversity and poor dispensation of justice are our real challenge and real weaknesses that have attracted certain segments towards fundamentalism. We must look inwards and unify our ranks to remedy these instead of mediation of outside players that have their own agenda. The American slogan of seeing a stable Pakistan is fallacious and it is sad to see our leaders falling for it. The path of confrontation that the politicians have chosen is self-destructive and must be reversed. There is still time to prove the outside world wrong. The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur E-mail: