Desperate as its people might be for a change, Pakistan seems immune to it. Political corruption and religious extremism is dehumanising society. There was a long awaited general election in February last year that resulted in a coalition government of moderate, progressive parties. Exercising good judgement, people rejected the extremist parties, reaffirming the belief that they were an essentially moderate and tolerant Muslim society. Even an incumbent MMA (a religious parties' alliance) government in the NWFP was badly defeated. We have all grown up with an extremist fringe among us. Ever since Islam came to the subcontinent in the 7th century AD, extremism has existed. Religious extremism in fact was controlling Europe when the Christian clergy ruled the whole of it in one form or another. It was after Reformation in the 16th century that religious control on the state reduced, disappearing finally by the middle of the 20th century after the two World Wars. The traumatic experience of the world wars had a great impact on the European society which, exhausted by death and destruction, took a turn for a Hedonistic way of life. The swinging sixties followed, and life in Europe was never the same again. India was divided in 1947 and Pakistan emerged as a new country of two wings, India dividing them by more than a thousand miles. Demanded and created as a separate, independent country for the Muslims of India, Pakistan was not conceived to be a theocracy. Jinnah's concept of Pakistan was a territorially independent Muslim state where other religions could flourish too. Jinnah is on record stating clearly that all citizens were going to be Pakistanis in the new country regardless of their religion. But 9/11 underlined the metamorphosis that Pakistan had gone through. Shaken to the core, the US blamed Al-Qaeda for the attack, recruiting Pakistan as an ally. Ironically, the nineteen hijackers who perpetrated this gigantic tragedy seemed to be no extremists. Life has not been the same since. Attacks on Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) followed and Pakistan was involved in the mle. The country had been a US partner against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s when the mujahideen were used to oust the Russians. This time round, it became a US partner against the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, former partners against the Soviets. Until then, there was always a balance in the Pakistani society, the extremist religious fringe coexisting with the moderate elements of society who dominated. Even after partition, in spite of a frenzy of communal riots that marked it, religious harmony was soon restored in Pakistan where Christians, Parsis, Hindus and Sikhs lived happily with the Muslim majority. Incidents of sectarian violence were few and far between. To the older generation today, this country is unrecognisable, given the religious extremism, intolerance, sectarian violence, terrorism, and suicide bombing. This painful reality is becoming a universal preoccupation. Reverting to the issue of change expected after the election, we got a government in the centre and provinces with large a large number of ministers. Unfortunately, there is still no change from lawlessness, unemployment and poverty, inflation and the huge gulf of income inequalities, and violence that is becoming a way of life. Stricken by poverty and all the deprivations that go with it, the people look to the heaven as the promise held out by the election result is dashed to the ground. That the president's popularity graph is going down, and that the PPP is beginning to show cracks within its ranks, is of no consequence for the average Pakistani as he panics. Having waited for a promised change for long years, he is now desperate for it. That is why there is every possibility for the simmering discontent in this country to erupt at the first opportunity. One occasion likely to present itself for such an eruption is the Lawyers' call for a long march to the capital on March 12, a few weeks from now. This time too Jamaat-i-Islami, Tehrik-e-Insaf and PML-N seem resolved to support the lawyers and bring their party cadres out. According to the firebrands in the movement, it is now or never. The writer is a former ambassador at large