Pakistan faces its stiffest challenge on Monday with the expected return from exile of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. But the response to this only highlights the "abject failure" of the country's leaders to manage political issues in a self-respecting manner, newspaper editorials on Sunday said.
"Narrowing the focus on the long-standing issue of civil-military relations, the protagonists of the 'struggle for democracy' are prepared to wage the war on the basis of the motto 'let the chips fall where they may'," Daily Times said in an editorial titled "Is 9/10 going to be Pakistan's 9/11?"
"The Saudi and Lebanese intervention serves to highlight the abject failure of our leaders - whether in government or in opposition - to manage the country's political problems the way a self-respecting, mature nation does," Dawn contended in an editorial headlined "A sorry spectacle".
Lebanese politician Saad Hariri and Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz have been engaged in efforts to persuade the Sharifs to remain in exile. Both were in Islamabad Sunday on separate visits.
By arresting dozens of workers of Sharif's faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), "the government has given away the fact that it is now operating very much in panic mode", The News said in an editorial titled "A very wrong approach". It added: "The government needs to understand that the best thing it can do is to act in a mature fashion."
According to Daily Times, in the looming Sharif-government confrontation, "it is scary to contemplate the experience of the state apparatus in recent years of handling public agitation.
"These days half a city can be burned down without the government going into any pangs of conscience. Sometimes, it even allows destruction of property and disruption of economic activity in the expectation that ordinary people whose lives are disrupted will be riled against the protesters," the editorial maintained.
"It is a measure of the government's jitters that they have imposed Section 144 in Rawalpindi, forbidding the assembly of five or more people. And it is swooping down strangely on the motorcycles which are the ride of the lower middle classes," it added.
"If the confrontation goes ahead and the legal and political battle is joined, the government is bound to go for Emergency or even martial law; and after that no one knows which way the country will go," Daily Times warned.
According to Dawn, "it was very embarrassing, if not mortifying", to see the Saudi prince and Lebanon's Hariri "addressing a televised press conference in Islamabad (on Sunday) to enlighten Pakistanis on the legal and moral aspects of the undertaking signed between the Musharraf government and the Sharif brothers in December 2000".
"The press conference was obviously held on the urging of a government that seems desperate to pre-empt the Sharifs' return", the editorial said, adding: "This episode places not just the Sharifs but also the country in an embarrassing position.
"Considering the events of the last few days, Mr Nawaz Sharif will commit political hara-kiri if he now chooses not to return," Dawn maintained.
The editorial noted that "it seems to have become a pattern of politics in Pakistan to call our foreign friends to pull our chestnuts out of our political fires". It added: "If we had a democratic system in place we would not have needed the services of so many 'saviours' to help us tide over our difficulties. We have, to say the least, made a laughing stock of ourselves."
According to The News, Sharif was being perceived by many as "being the one political leader who has stood up to the military".
Thus, by "trying to incarcerate him or creating problems for him on his arrival in Pakistan is only going to show the government in poor light and reinforce the public perception that those in the corridors of power are quite scared of the (his) returning", it maintained.