The third empire of 2014 must be watching from side-lines the make-and-break politics and the consequent pre-poll emboldening of its favourite child, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). The perception generated successfully by the PTI to have the patronage of the third empire has faltered several politicians in their resolve to antagonise the PTI. Nevertheless, the third empire knows that the audio recordings of its serving officials while giving directions to protagonists of the 2014 dharna (sit in) on how to crumble the government would also be an asset lying safely with the confines of the then sitting government run by the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N).

The year 2014 painted the picture portraying the PTI as a pawn in the adroit hands of the third empire running the whole gamut. The presence of Sheikh Rasheed of Awami Muslim League (AML) alongside the PTI was sufficient to congeal the colours and scintillate the picture. The ruse of electoral rigging in 2013 was used. The Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) joined hands to complete the troika of participants, to offer a semblance of a cause oriented agitation either for bringing about a change in Pakistan, as advocated by the PTI-AML hybrid, or for introducing an Arab Spring in Pakistan, as promoted by the PAT. However, the low turnout of the agitators marred the whole spectacle, and the same disgruntled the third empire.

In September 2017, the third empire made another frustrating effort in a by-election in NA-120 to help the PTI win the election. The workers of the PML-N active in the constituency to support Kalsoom Nawaz were harassed, picked up, and detained to cede political space to the PTI. If the PTI had won the by-election, the win would have created a great demoralizing effect on the PML-N. In the same vein, if the PML-N had lost the by-election, a trail of consequent defections from its rank would have been inescapable and inexorable. The electoral victory favoured the PML-N by helping it preserve internal cohesion which is now the strength of the PML-N.

There are three reasons why the former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has got sidelined in the PML-N, if not banished from the PML-N. First, in August 2014, Nisar allowed the dharna (sit-in) politics take root in the country, especially by letting the procession reach the red zone in Islamabad. The ruse projected was that the 2013 elections were rigged; however, the actual objective was to pressurize the PML-N government to submit to the third empire, behind the scene promoters of the sit-in.  Nisar allowed the agitators to reach the red zone to materialize the initial part of the notorious London Plan, but then Nisar failed to oust them by force. Nisar remained complaisant in the name of political appeasement. Secondly, in March 2016, Nisar facilitated departure of General Pervez Musharraf from the country, and thereby from the clutches of Article 6. Nisar did that in the name of civil-military rapprochement. Thirdly, in October 2016, Nisar disagreed on making public the hot words exchanged between civilian and military participants of a security meeting (that the military should stop differentiating between good and bad militants as the country was fearing international isolation) through what is now known as Dawn leaks. Nisar might have realized by now that it was useless to outgrow the party size and that the party discipline was supreme to self-projection of any kind.

In the meantime, the PAT reveled in the illusion that, as the PTI helped its cause in 2014, the PTI can repeat the same again. That is, a kind of political re-conjugation was possible with the PTI. Nevertheless, the PAT overlooked the fact that the PTI got disappointed with it on at least two counts. First, in October 2014, when the PAT ended its part of sit-in prematurely leaving the PTI to brave isolation. Secondly, in January 2018, the PAT failed to rally people around at the Mall road, Lahore. The PTI needed PAT to gather sympathies of people and rally them around. The moment the PAT failed to do this job, the PAT stood irrelevant.

Lately, the PTI has finally declared that without joining the system, no change can be brought about in the system, and hence is the justification for embracing turncoats from other political parties under the stratagem of their being electable. That is, the PTI can be represented by the politicians experienced and resourceful in the art of winning elections. The PTI has shown its craving to join the corridors of power by meeting any expediency under the belief that once in power it will be able to change the system. This is the point abhorred by the PAT which is of the view that joining the system without prior introducing or actuating reforms and in the company of stereotyped politicians who remained part of the system is a futile effort. The PAT has a point: while in other parties, politicians who could not bring about a change in the system cannot spearhead the change in the future. They are trained to be part of the system and not trained as agents of change. The major resistance to change is bound to come from these electable who would be averse to support any systemic or institutional change adversely affecting their electable status. The electable are not stupid.

The major weapon adorning the political armoury of Sheikh Rasheed of the AML is the religion card – to play with the sacred sentiments of people with the sole aim of disparaging the PML-N. Rasheed is ready to address the PTI rallies and stir the religious feelings of people against the PML-N just to woo voters and win the election.

In short, the third empire is ready to use Rasheed and Rasheed is all set to use the religion card. With a little variation, the card is similar to the one used by the late General Zia-ul Haq plunging the whole country into his servitude but leaving behind a trail of sectarian blood bath. Both Rasheed and the third empire are playing a dangerous game, the fire of which is no respecter of anyone.