The country is beset with speculation regarding just about everything the coalition is overtly engaged in doing, but covertly pursuing to undo because such is the gnawing discord between its proclamations and actions. Ever since the advent of the current coalition, the main issues that have dogged the principal partners consistently are the restoration of the judiciary, the security situation along Pakistan's western border together with its fallout in other parts of the country and the impeachment of General Musharraf. In spite of a firm commitment regarding at least one of the issues vis--vis the restoration of the judiciary, the PPP of the NROed Asif Zardari did not deliver while it has been doing a dance of ambivalence with regard to the fate of the former commander. While PPP's duplicity involving an issue with serious repercussions for the country remains a matter of grave concern, the absence of any long- or short-term government strategy with regard to the security situation defies all logic. In a recent meeting of the coalition partners, it was decided to pursue talks with various extremist groups in preference to the use of power to overcome the crisis. One may ask, who recommended the use of force in the first place? Who are the agencies or persons responsible for preferring the use of brute firepower to confront the crisis? Most important of all, what are the contours of the government policy, if there is one at all, in dealing with the fast deteriorating situation along its western border and the rapid Talibanisation of large tracts of the NWFP and the northern areas? How is the government responding to the senile outbursts of that stooge of the US ensconced in his fort in Kabul with his writ practically absent anywhere else in his own country? And how is the government dealing with the expression of US concerns after one Hamid Karzai accused Pakistan of harbouring extremists? What is the government's response to the Indian accusations regarding the involvement of the ISI in the bombing of its embassy in Kabul? Together with the reported massing of the ISAF forces along the Pakistani border with Afghanistan, these are serious concerns that require credible strategising. On the face of it, there has been a total absence of the same within the ruling echelons. Take it from another angle. While the PPP and its NROed leadership do not tire of issuing periodic updates on intentions of empowering the parliament, none of these grave issues have yet been placed before it for deliberation. On top of it, two of the ministries that are responsible for devising policies with regard to dealing with the judges issue and the law and order situation are headed by non-elected people: Farooq Naek and Rehman Malik. This provides a measure of importance the NROed leadership attaches to these matters and its seriousness in devising policies to tackle the escalating crisis. The fact is that no policy, short- or long-term, is presently in place. The government is resorting to ad hocism to tackle problems that keep surfacing from time to time, be it the judges issue that refuses to go away, the deteriorating law and order situation, or the impeachment of General Musharraf. In a letter reportedly written recently by the PML-N leadership to the NROed party, it has brought across the lack of seriousness enveloping the coalition to deal with these matters. The letter has also highlighted the urgency of addressing the issues without any further loss of time. The PML-N leadership is, in fact, reported to have asked for a time frame to address the grave outstanding problems that the coalition is confronted with. The resolve to pursue dialogue in preference to the use of force is ridden with ambiguity. Which are these elements that the government intends to talk with and what are the parameters of these negotiations? Is the government approaching these parleys with an intention to reiterating the writ of the state, or is the approach riddled with a lack of resolve to do the same? The recent arrangement secured through negotiations with a section of the Taliban in Swat was more a case of the government surrendering its writ to a band of extremists and outlaws. Is it going to repeat the performance in other parts of the province as the fears being expressed indicate? The principal problem that the coalition confronts relates to the acceptance of its writ. In spite of the people's verdict to the contrary, it has continued to live with dictatorship and its remnant symbols. Agreed, it has its limitations like the NRO, but is it going to allow these limitations continue tarnishing its future legitimacy? Or, is it going to initiate steps to eventually throw off the yoke of despotism and all its surviving manifestations including a battery of servile toadies and sycophants who continue dancing tied to the strings of dictatorship? If yes, of which there are no indications so far, how and when? The concern expressed by the PML-N leadership is valid and relevant. Over four months have passed since the coalition took charge, but the problems for the people have only increased and there appears to be no mechanism that has been developed to work on a strategy to reduce the burden that the electorate is immersed under. On the contrary, if one were to go by the spate of draconian pronouncements from the NROed party, they should get ready for more shocks that the lessons in pragmatism seem to hold for them: increase in oil prices leading to enhancement in the prices of all commodities of basic use. There is more to pay for meat (if the poor can afford any of that), lentils, vegetables, flour, rice, sugar, oil (if there is any of that available in the market) " name it and there is an increased price tag attached to it, a price tag that seems to go up by the day Our pride and self-respect are at an all time low. Buried under an increasing burden of survival, the people have no recourse for remedies. With a PCOed judiciary and NROed politics, the leaders are clueless. The coalition is lost in its inherent paradoxes and unable to move forward. The agencies are digging their fangs deeper. General Musharraf is boasting that the army would not desert him. Political non-entities are proclaiming that the former military commander would use 58 (2)(b) if a move were initiated for his impeachment. In this plethora of sickening claims and counter claims, it is the people who continue to suffer the burden of living. The writer is a media and political consultant based in Islamabad  E-mail: raoofhasan@hotmail.com