PRESIDENT Asif Zardari's address to Parliament comes at a crucial time for the seven-month-old elected government. As the statement by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicates, the Bush Administration is bent on continuing a policy of brinkmanship in the tribal areas in pursuit of electoral gains, caring little for Pakistan's protests. While the Prime Minister has reiterated once again that Islamabad would never concede on national sovereignty, the US continues to lean on the new government. Meanwhile, despite military operations in Bajaur and Swat, there is no respite to militant acts. The massive internal displacement caused by the operations has given birth to widespread alienation in the tribal areas and has put a heavy burden on the country's resources. Pakistan also faces a grave economic situation which the government needs to address seriously. The rivalry between the PPP and PML(N), and the attempts by both to woo the PML(Q), combined with statements by hotheaded leaders, have caused concerns about the future of the fledgling democracy. With President Zardari continuing to be in full control of the levers of power like his predecessor Gen (retd) Musharraf, while at the same time holding the office of the Co-Chairman of the PPP, the entire responsibility for the success or failure of dealing with these challenges lies on a single leader, which is by no means a comfortable situation. There are many who think the sooner he gets the 17th Amendment and Article 58(2b) rescinded, handing over most of the powers to the PM and Parliament, thus allowing the parliamentary system to function with full confidence and strength, the better for the government and the country. On Tuesday he would be meeting President Bush who is likely to press him to do more in the tribal areas and not to object to the US attacks inside FATA. Will he be able to change the mind of a desperate President who is ready to employ any means that can help the GOP win the Presidential race? While it is understandable on the part of the government to seek good relations with the US, people rightly expect that it would not in any case bargain on national sovereignty. With the grave challenges facing the country, there is need on the part of the political parties to rein in their rivalries and stop scoring points. Smaller coalition partners should resist the temptation to make unrealistic demands on the government. The situation requires that the government go an extra mile, if needed, to maintain good working relations with the opposition. Similarly the opposition must not use the situation to arm-twist the administration or to play to the gallery. The PPP and PML(N) should act with a sense of responsibility so that the country can cope with some of the gravest challenges in its history.