Dictatorship entails despondency; democracy even when dysfunctional, keeps the hope for safeguarding a nation's sovereignty alive. Right at the time when Pakistan needs to pull back harder from the edge of precipice to which it has been pushed by Musharraf's supine capitulation to the West, the elected leadership insisted on its own assessment of the problem to end the crisis in the tribal areas through talks with militants rather than accepting dictation from others to crush them by force. That the ruling coalition decided to first take up the issue of militancy instead of judges' reinstatement or Musharraf's impeachment indicates it has realised the immediate threat to our sovereignty. And the message emanating from the coalition meeting was loud and clear: Pakistan would not tolerate foreign attacks on its territory; nor would it allow anyone to stage terrorist activities on its soil. A good thing about the Islamabad session was that it was held without any inhibition. Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman subjected the PPP leadership to scathing criticism for not having consulted the coalition partners before the recent military operation in the tribal areas. Asfandyar Wali also expressed his strong reservations on the issue. It goes without saying that the political parties making up the ruling coalition are aware of the challenges facing the country in order to devise a strategy to successfully meet them. The PPP under Mr Zardari has taken longer than expected to understand the dynamics of running a coalition. But then the party had its own compulsions to get closer to the forces averse to democracy rather than its political partners. Its leadership returning to power through a deal and getting absolved of all the corruption charges under the so-called NRO explains its reluctance to acquiesce in the demand for reinstating the deposed judges and impeaching the president. Finally, some good news. As a party heading the coalition, the PPP leadership now appears to have taken the ownership of the situation and also seems prepared to keep the junior partners on board in the decision-making process. Moreover, Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's briefing to the political leadership on national security issues reflects the army's acceptance of its subservience to the democratic dispensation. It needs to be seen in the backdrop of reports that the US Administration is disinclined to bank any more on Musharraf and is instead willing to work with the civilian government for tackling the issue of terrorism which has been threatening its interests. The army under General Kayani's command must be trying to redeem its image, so badly damaged during the last eight years of military misrule. Musharraf had not only brought the country's premier institution into disrepute but also made it vulnerable to terrorist attacks by declaring War on his own citizens just to appease his foreign backers. Pakistan had been turned into a rentier state. Innocent people were kidnapped on suspicion of links with terrorist networks and handed over to the Americans for interrogation in return for dollars, coming in loads. The two western provinces were ablaze. Pity the sacred saviours. They were either seen killing the unarmed civilians or trying to cover up the bombings of the tribal belt by the coalition forces, which frequently intruded into our territory. Musharraf was the one man playing havoc with the country just to perpetuate his unrepresentative rule. Parliament had been turned into a rubberstamp and all important decisions about national security were taken by a military dominated National Security Council, which had arrogated to itself all the state powers. A parliamentary committee on Balochistan, comprising chronic mumbler Ch Shujaat Hussain and his sidekick, was still negotiating with the Baloch nationalists when Nawab Akbar Bugti was hounded out of his native town and murdered. The spineless quislings never dared to object to this relentless repression. Balochistan was bleeding. All the same, Musharraf did not tire of lecturing the nations around the world to demonstrate tolerance in dealing with each other, though he never learnt to live at peace with his own people. The February 18 elections had raised the hope to bring the prevalent feelings of despondency and decadence to an end. But the nation was completely disenchanted to see the ruling coalition bogged down by its internal disputes. It was the PPP causing more disappointment by playing second fiddle to the presidency rather than keeping itself aligned to its political partners and making efforts to strengthen democracy and revive the rule of law. Much of the flak the coalition has been taking from a cross-section of society had to do with Mr Zardari's constant foot-dragging on the commitments he had made with the electorate. But now that coalition partners have reached a consensus on resolving the tribal conflict through negotiations and also resolved not to tolerate foreign attacks on our soil, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will find himself discussing the issue of terrorism with President Bush from a position of strength. And he can tell his host in no uncertain terms that Pakistan under a democratic dispensation will not let anyone bully it. E-mail: sarmad@nation.com.pk