The multi-dimensional conflict raging across Pakistan continues unabated, generating new demons with every fresh onslaught. The military operation in the North-West has added to the political unrest that is perpetuating the state of uncertainty. Mr Zardari's article in the New York Times demanding of the US to stop dancing with the dictators and a veiled reference to the brewing conspiracy against him have added fuel to the speculation that all may not be well, after all. My counterpoint would be whether any one expected it to be all right in the wake of the manner of the ascent to power of the incumbent leadership? I am afraid there would be few ayes while a preponderant majority would come forth with a negative response. The core issue that has always afflicted the working of the group in power is its thin claim to legitimacy whether it is of the political, constitutional or moral nature. Unfortunately, on all counts, the leadership would fail to even scrape through. There have been many queries raised with regard to the manner in which the military operation could have been more effective and may not have dragged on endlessly as it seems under the present circumstances. The government's claim to having eliminated the second and third rung leadership of the militants makes for a hollow achievement in the face of their top guns not having been nabbed. Did any one ponder the prospect that one should have gone for the leadership of the militants before launching the operation to cleanse the remnants as, in the absence of the chain of command, the rank and file of the terrorist networks could have suffered a fatal blow? That could have been done with the intelligence agencies taking the lead. It appears the option was not given a serious thought. That may reflect the inability of the planners of the operation, even their unwillingness. The fact that the operation was launched across the troubled areas practically simultaneously, thus spreading the available resources in men and material rather thin, may speak of an inherent weakness at the planning stage. The announcement of substantial head money on the elimination or the arrest of the top leadership of the terrorist networks further added to the perception of the strength of the militants as it proved that they were all well and leading the charge. The respective strengths of the combatants notwithstanding, the psychological dimension of a conflict assumes a far greater importance in the event of an enemy that may be relatively unknown and invisible as appears to be the case in the present instance. The problem assumes an even graver dimension when there could be perceived support for the militant networks at the grassroots level which would make the task of the military commanders even more difficult. The reported initiation of a treason case against a former (?) commissioner may only be one drop in an ocean of widely spread approbation of the militant network perceptively engaged in a war against the US and its allies, Pakistan being the principal one. That's why there is increasing sensitivity to the claim that it is a war that we have only succeeded in dragging home against formidable odds. Saner thinking would have only determined that it is a war that should have been left to the US to fight without us having assumed its charge. That not having been done, we are confronted with the unsavoury choice of either leading the conflict to its logical conclusion at a heavy cost, or dragging ourselves out of it in a manner to spell the least damage, both in terms of human life and psychological impact. Either of the two options has its numerous pitfalls and I believe that the planners of the operation were not quite mindful of the same, more specifically of the adverse impact of the considerable time that would be consumed and the widespread direct and collateral damage that would be caused in pushing for the desired objectives. There may have been few options at the advent of the conflict, but these options have further declined with the passage of time. Pursuing a prolonged conflict is causing irremediable damage, while jumping out of it may have its own untenable consequences. Quite obviously, it is a war that should never have been in the first place. But, now that it is there, how to cope with it and its immense fallout? In the absence of any easy answers, a concerted effort should have been made to inject an additional dose of legitimacy at the political front so as to create viable options that could be pursued. In actual effect, what we have before us is a scenario where an apparent military deadlock, or an excruciatingly slow progress on this front, is being compounded by a lack of legitimacy on the political front. Consequently, the prospect could emerge where the command and management of the operation could be gradually pulled out of the hands of its civil and military commanders and handed over to forces that may not be overtly sensitive to the security and strategic interests of Pakistan. If that were to be the case, of which an adequate possibility exists, we may be heading for a dungeon with no way out. The inadequacy and incompetence of the incumbent political leadership is becoming increasingly obvious. The option of averting the crisis having been botched, the grave situation on ground demanded a far more credible and expert handling. By all means, that appears to be missing completely within various echelons of the ruling conglomerate as has been so patently demonstrated by the dismal manner in which the unprecedented humanitarian issue of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) has so far been handled. What is even more damning is the lack of prospect of an improvement in any of the sectors of operation. On the contrary, there is a self-destructive complacence that grips the functionaries who have been assigned the task of tackling the existing and emerging crises. Can the country afford any further prolongation of the current pattern of governance and management? The time for change may have come, but change should come only through the means that are available within the parameters of the democratic system. It is also a change that must begin at the top. The fear of a conspiracy being hatched against Mr Zardari notwithstanding, the ground reality calls loudly for a paradigm shift in the manner in which the country is being ruled and guided. It could also be that there is little time to get stuck in the modalities of the prospective change The writer is an independent political analyst based in Islamabad E-mail: