I was asked by an ex colleague (who happens to be a PTI office bearer) as to what could be the outcome of Imran Khan’s decision to ‘lockdown’ Islamabad. I replied that in view of PTI’s stated intent to paralyse life, the Government would pull out all stops to put down the protest through brute force. A day before the Supreme Court decision, I was again asked to make an assessment of how big a crowd would PTI be able to muster on 2 November. My reply was that in the present circumstances where all access to the Federal Capital was blocked by containers and law enforcement personnel armed with tear gas and rubber bullets, I did not expect anything more than fifteen to twenty thousand. I added that real numbers could only be generated if the Government allowed people to converge unhindered on the venue.

While PTI’s strength is displayed in its consistent endeavour to bring change and good governance, its vulnerability is manifested in a simplistic and often naïve methodology. For example, in the current crisis, the PTI think tank (if there is any) underestimated Government response to the ‘lock down’ call. This error of judgement was perhaps a result of Imran Khan’s propensity to say too much too soon. By announcing that he would ‘lock down’ the capital with a million charged protestors and that this would be the final battle (which by implication meant a last stand), he provided leverage to initiate a response designed to effectively win this final battle.

Realising that PTI was relying on numbers to carry out its threat, the Government focused itself on not allowing these numbers to ‘integrate’ at any cost. It must have been a painful process for Khan Sahib to watch this happen and come to grips with the notion that without sufficient people, there could be no ‘dharna’ nor a lockdown. It was this factor and the history making decision by the Supreme Court, which prompted PTI Leadership to modify its plans without losing face. It needed a lot of courage for Imran Khan to announce the change of strategy, considering what his activists had been through. The announcement to defer the protest and change the agitation to a thanksgiving must have been a shock to many passionate workers, but events are likely to prove that the move was the right one.

The critical question that PTI now needs to ask itself is ‘What next?’ While having faith in the Apex Judiciary on the accountability issue, the cricketing Khan needs to focus his attention on strengthening his party and preparing it for the 2018 showdown. A key factor for success in these polls will be the mustering of ‘electables’ to party ranks. Interestingly, this move may come in direct conflict with the ideals based on which, Imran entered politics.

PTI will also have to market the changes it has brought about in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the national electorate by putting his reforms in the show window. This will require an effective fusion of creativity and information management skills. I am prompted to say this because momentous changes in land revenue, healthcare, law enforcement and education are visible in the province.

Success in the next elections will also depend on the thumb rule that top party leadership’s must be accessible to grass root office bearers at all times. It is this segment of political hierarchy that has its fingers on voter pulse and is therefore critical to swelling vote banks.

As this piece goes to print, PTI is proving all pundits of doom wrong. Television screens are showing that Imran Khan’s call for workers and supporters to converge on the public meeting venue has met with massive response. The crowd may not be a million strong, but it is definitely an indication that perhaps we are watching the making of a new and politically aware Pakistan.