President Asif Ali Zardari was cautioned during a recent television interview that the popularity of the Pakistan Peoples Party has been on the decline since assuming power in March 2008, placed in the public perception somewhere between 3 and 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Many observers viewed this assessment as generous. As the president struggles to establish his personal identity, he must have discovered why the job he holds has been branded as the most difficult in the world. His ascent to the Peoples Party co-chairmanship suddenly threw him in the deep end to face formidable challenges that he accepted with great relish and proceeded to meet them with considerable initial success. He steered the party to victory in the February 2007 elections, skilfully cobbled alliances at the centre and the four provinces neutralising most opposition, politically forced Pervez Musharraf into resigning from the presidency and then unobtrusively slipped into his shoes outmanoeuvring other aspirants. Simultaneously, he consolidated his holdover the party by promoting second tier leaders who pledged loyalty to his person and bringing into the mainstream his friends who had stood by him during the adversity of long prison years. He pointedly ignored the closest long time and trusted associates of the assassinated leader that had kept the party flag flying in and outside of the Parliament during the eight difficult years of the Musharraf regime, faithfully following and implementing instructions received from her abodes in self-exile. The ordinary PPP workers however remain devoted to the Benazir Bhutto name that is gradually developing into a kind of sainthood, demonstrated by recent violent storming of Shanakht festival at Karachi Arts Council, agitated at the showing of an image of the martyred leader in close proximity of the late President General Zia that the sensitive PPP workers considered as sacrilege. The main political adversaries PPP and PML-N became engaged in intrigues focused to demolish each other in pursuit of absolute power, soon after the February 2008 elections. The real public issues of economy and terrorism confronting the nation got pushed to the back burner that grew to assume monumental proportions. In order to shelter PML-Q from losing votes in the forthcoming general elections on account of rising prices, President Musharraf had unwisely chosen not to pass to the consumer the unprecedented increase in international crude oil prices during 2007-08 that reached a peak of $147 per barrel from about $45. The global hike in food and edible oil prices further added to the woes escalating the trade deficit to $15 billion and inflation to 25 percent, depreciated the value of rupee from 60 to 80 for 1 USD, dried up new industrial investments reducing industrial productivity and growth and the foreign currency reserves depleted to an alarming $7 billion. The bitter pill of a bail out by a despised IMF loan had to be swallowed to avoid default. During all this economic turmoil (and as before) the Islamic pride in the tribal areas was fast transforming into militant fanaticism and insurgencies in Balochistan were on the rise while we were too busy to care and were sitting back letting it all happen. Before we knew it, our consumer based economy that was the pride of Musharraf regime had reached its logical disaster, we had lost control of the seven tribal agencies called FATA and the Malakand division (of which Swat valley is a district) and the government writ was being challenged in most of the NWFP and parts of Balochistan by various groups of militants. The militants were teaching youngsters to remorselessly kill their own people, destroy public properties, attack public places (not even sparing the visiting Sri Lankan Cricket team) and to become suicide bombers. They started calling themselves members of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan as disciples of Mullah Omar and generated access to money, arms and other resources by devious means. The NATO forces continued killing more innocents than militants by bombing of suspected targets of militant hideouts in the tribal areas using pilot-less drone aircrafts, airily dismissing our muted government protests of violation of our sovereignty. Instead of developing a comprehensive counter-militancy policy through national consensus and participation, managing our economy by promoting self-reliance, mobilising our internal talent and resources and cutting down wasteful expenditure and pilferage, our government of the people now complacently awaits the promised $1.5 billion per annum in economic and $3 billion in military assistance programme promised by various American officials subject to their Congress and Senate approvals that are likely to attach humiliating preconditions that we may find unsavoury. Another $5.2 billion has been pledged by the 'Friends of Democratic Pakistan' at the donor's conference held in Tokyo on April 17 but there can be many a slip in the next steps of commitment and disbursement. The total falls far short of the $35 billion lost by us in the US War On Terror and demanded by President Zardari as a Marshall Plan. Will these commitments fully materialise, the funds efficiently utilised for capacity building or frittered away on unproductive projects and commissions and a bulk will find its way back to the donor countries in the form of expenses and consultant fees, all remain to be seen. It is surprising that the deployment of 100,000 troops of one of the finest armies in the world has failed to capture, kill or drive out a few thousand foreign militants and their local supporters from the tribal areas that has led the US administration to suspect and loudly voiced by their generals that the Pakistan Army is not willing to let go of its long-term strategic assets relating to Afghanistan in return for short-term financial gains. The active involvement of the permanent Indian nexus planned by the Americans to secure Afghanistan is a source of tension for our army, which feels that the Indians already have a major presence executing massive development works in Afghanistan and have established sixteen consulates along Pakistan Afghanistan border that are primarily engaged in anti-Pakistan activities and in fuelling insurgencies in Balochistan. The president seems to have come to terms with his limitations with the numbers in the Parliament and the level of support of the state institutions, particularly the armed forces and has realised that the honeymoon period is over. He agreed to reinstate all deposed judges through an executive order under domestic, institutional and international pressures that climaxed on March 15 with a massive public turn out led by Mian Nawaz Sharif from Lahore in the lawyer's Long March, contradicting his previous assertion that had kept the nation on an edge for a year. He reluctantly signed the Nizam-i-Adal for Malakand division negotiated by the ANP government in the NWFP with the radical Maulana Sufi Muhammad thus acknowledging that the politicians are not influential enough to counter the rising force of the Taliban and the local people must be appeased by acceding to their demand of a system even though it is contrary to the liberal ideology of the PPP. He readily approved the recommendations of the reinstated Chief Justice of Pakistan for the appointment of judges, He agreed to form a committee to propose constitutional amendments that will clip his powers and make the prime minister the executive authority. He has reigned in the Punjab governor after his failed campaign to topple the PML-N led government and to turn Lahore into Larkana. Some may construe these conciliatory steps as a sign of weakness of the president. Many feel the Swat Peace Accord is a surrender of the government to the Taliban. The road to economic recovery and end of militancy may still be like a mirage. But the president has taken the first real step that is the hardest, towards giving in to people's wishes that is the essential ingredient of democracy. Most of these steps will eventually be seen favourably by the public and will promote and stabilise democracy. The declining popularity may be redeemed if the president and his team stay on course with transparency and good governance, interact directly with the people on issues and use the state authority as a responsibility and not as a fiefdom to squander at will. Is it too much to expect? The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur. Email: