While the political situation in Pakistan is fluid and unpredictable, nothing dramatic should be expected. President Asif Zardari is ill and away from the country. But it does not automatically make the Pakistan military stronger or strengthen the hands of its protégé, Imran Khan. The end of Parvez Musharraf's militarized reign, the return of a reasonably independent judiciary, the failure of Pakistani terrorism as state policy against India and Afghanistan, and the election of a weak but surprisingly nimble civilian government lead by Zardari have made Pakistan more politically stable than conventional wisdom would grant.

The man who has remarkably made some of that possible is Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widower, who is now missing from Pakistan following heart complications. His and Benazir's son and heir apparent, Bilawal, is in Pakistan to fill the power gap left by Zardari's absence. Bilawal's presence would keep the ruling party united and warn the Pakistan military against machinations. Because with the line of succession clear, the military won't like to invite the wrath of the people by breaking up Zardari's government and installing one led by Imran Khan or by another of its favourites. The military has too much on its hands.

Before 9/11 and Barack Obama's presidency, the Pakistan army had friendly relations with the United States. Those ties went far back into the dark decades of the Cold War. They resulted in large US military aid to Pakistan. The aid reduced when US interests in the region diminished, like for example after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan.

But overall friendly ties between the Pakistan military and the US government remained. It provided cover for Pakistan's advances in the Chinese-assisted deterrent against India and in its low-intensity wars against India and Afghanistan. It also gave the Pakistan military free rein to rule the country as it desired. The US found Pakistan's democracy too messy to handle and preferred to deal directly with the Pakistan army.

That started changing with Musharraf being forced to abdicate. And the United States growingly lent its support to Pakistan's civilian government after finding the military complicit in the terrorisms of the Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Haqqani network in Afghanistan. The US operation that killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad in Pakistan was a game-changer. US-Pakistan relations have never been the same since. These have been worsened by the US drone campaign in FATA, the Haqqani network attacks on US forces in Afghanistan and its embassy in Kabul at the behest of the ISI, the NATO bombing of a Pakistani border post, and Pakistan's decision to expel the Americans from its bases.

With US-Pakistan army relations at their nadir, the military can see no gain by deposing the Zardari regime, especially as it invokes considerable sympathy in the Western world. China has been cool to Pakistan army approaches to replace the US as its principal military-aid donor. China has rising problems with Pakistani support to Uighur terrorism, and in the circumstances, it would not want the ascendency of the jihadi military in the affairs of the state. Caught up with its own fracases with democratic states around the South China Sea, China may not like to be seen as a dictatorship propping up another in Pakistan. China has nothing to complain about the Zardari administration, which is perhaps more sincere in wanting to curb Uighur militancy than the Pakistan army-controlled ISI.

Of course Zardari's health remains a major concern. But if the Pakistan army moves to depose his regime for that reason, people will come out on the streets. Zardari may not be the most loved Pakistani president. But Pakistanis and the Pakistan media will not easily give up their hard-won democratic freedom. The same reasons may prevent Nawaz Sharief or Imran Khan from exploiting the situation. Imran Khan does not like being identified with the Pakistan army or ISI. And Nawaz Sharief has had bitter experiences with both.

Then there is Pakistan's judiciary. It is less in the limelight now than when the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was fighting Parvez Musharraf. But it matters nonetheless. A curious equilibrium has been established in Pakistan where the judiciary, the military and the civilian government have carved out their separate niches. Each one is wary of the other and cannot alter the equilibrium radically. This gives Pakistan its current uneasy stability.

Finally, there is Asif Zardari himself. He has proved a remarkable survivor. He has escaped impossible situations making compromises without hurting his core strength. He is not rigid like Nawaz Sharief, and therefore, the Pakistan military cannot powerfully conspire against him. He has emerged relatively unscathed from battles with the Supreme Court. His past corruption has ceased to matter. He survived the Abbottabad raid and, worse, Memogate, sacrificing his favourite ambassador to the United States.

Barring health issues, there are really no challenges Zardari cannot overcome. In the worst case, the party leadership will pass into the hands of his son, while the government may not overly suffer or be handicapped. Pakistan is a feudal country. The country has a powerful love-hate relationship with the Bhutto dynasty. That will keep it going, at least for now.