Going by their aggressive mood and hectic preparations, both Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Dr Tahir ul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and their allies seem determined to march towards Islamabad. The top PAT and PTI leadership maintain that they are beyond the point of no return. Alarmed by the gathering storm, the government appears desperate to diffuse the crisis and seeks help from its political allies to work out a solution through dialogue with PAT/PTI.

Why are the PML-N governments in Lahore and Islamabad in a state of panic? If they are truly democratic then they must respect the right of peaceful protests by other political parties. Actions like besieging Dr. Qadri’s headquarters in Minhaj-ul-Quran, denying railway travel to PTI marchers from Karachi, cracking down on PAT/PTI’s workers in Punjab, impounding their motorcycles and planning to shut down gas/petrol stations in Lahore, Islamabad and along the GT road all reflect an undemocratic, intolerant and authoritarian mindset of the ruling elite.

What is the end game for the movements launched by Imran Khan and Dr Qadri? In the immediate future both demand accountability of the perpetrators of the Model Town massacre, Nawaz Sharif’s resignation and removal of the PML-N government. Both vow to replace the “Sharif monarchy” with true democracy.

While Imran Khan remains suspicious of Dr. Qadri’s vision, philosophy and his brand of revolution, the PAT leader finds little attraction in PTI’s objective of mid-term elections, though electoral reforms provide common ground between the two parties. It appears that personal egos and vested interests of a few “progressive” hardliners in PTI remain in the way of any agreement between PAT and PTI.

Islamabad is abuzz with rumors of a ‘minus one’ or ‘minus all’ arrangement. There is even talk of prospective candidates for any future caretaker setup as well as lists of corrupt politicians likely to face the music. But with PML-N commanding a strong majority in parliament, a well-entrenched and stubborn Nawaz Sharif will not give in so easily.

If political deadlock continues after August 14 and Islamabad remains paralyzed by a prolonged sit in by the million protestors, if or violence sets in, then a soft military intervention cannot be ruled out. In that scenario, where the army chief assumes the role of the final arbiter, the initiative would clearly rest with the military, which will then call the shots that may not be to Nawaz Sharif’s liking.

By tendering resignations of PTI members from parliament and even the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly as the last resort, Imran Khan could deliver a coup de grace to Nawaz Sharif’s government. If Dr. Qadri also joins Khan in Islamabad, it could prove a lethal combination.

We may then see the ‘minus all’ scenario that could lead to the formation of the much talked about army backed extended interim setup (up to 2 years) comprising honest and reputed professionals and eminent Pakistanis whose prime mandate would be to stabilize the country. Such a setup would undertake strict “accountability” of the corrupt elite, introduce electoral reforms and hold fair and transparent elections under an independent election commission.

That article 245 coincided with the timeframe of the long marches made the government’s action appear suspect. Whether terrorists attack Islamabad or not, the troops in the army’s most feared 111 infantry brigade deployed to protect the capital’s sensitive installations, appear to be well placed for any ‘minus all’ contingency.

Unless Nawaz Sharif demonstrates democratic vision and statesmanship to turn the tide in his favor, he may well be on a hat trick of premature departures. If growing animosity and tensions between Dr. Qadri and the Sharifs are to be reduced, the PML-N top leadership should consider Dr Qadri’s legitimate demands, like the registration of the FIR filed by Minhaj-ul-Quran and families of Model Town victims and the resignation of the Punjab Chief Minister.

Imran Khan could give up his demand for Nawaz Sharif’s immediate resignation if he is guaranteed by the Prime Minister or political mediators the audit of those thirty five punctured constituencies, accountability of corrupt returning officers and most importantly, mid-term elections in March 2015 under a freshly constituted independent election commission.

If, after all political maneuverings, Nawaz Sharif manages to survive the August 14 political onslaught, then the nation would expect drastic changes in his style of governance. As a first step, he must remove his family members and close relatives from key government posts so as to dispel the impression that Raiwind holds the country’s entire political and financial affairs.

The policies of ad-hoc-ism and deep politicization of public sector organizations must end. Even after more than a year in power, organizations like NADRA, PCB, PEMRA and ECP continue to be managed under acting arrangements with no full time heads. It is time the country had full-time foreign, defence and law ministers. As per the Supreme Court’s directives, only the most qualified and deserving candidates should be selected on merit through a transparent process.

Pakistanis watch the tense political power play and expect better sense to prevail in Islamabad. Will it all be all over by the time the long march reached Gujranwala as per 2009’s experience or will the nation witness the final duel in Islamabad?

 The writer is a retired brigadier and a political/defence analyst and columnist.