As the nation awaits its 68 th independence day, the  PML-N government gears up to meet what could turn out to be a serious challenge to its future from  Imran Khan’s ‘azadi’ and Dr Tahir ul Qadri’s ‘revolution’ marches in Islamabad.

In a meeting with senior journalists and media anchors in Lahore the other day, Imran Khan appeared determined to proceed with a million men march until change is achieved but parried questions related to his party’s deeper plans of action. Delaying or putting the march off seems out of the question, though surprises are always possible in Pakistan’s unpredictable politics.

 As August 14th draws near, we see more of the government’s  typical arm twisting as security  and anti corruption agencies hound the leading politicians of the emerging opposition alliance. While Dr Tahir ul Qadri reportedly faces secret FIA probes related to his assets in a country abroad, the National Accountability Bureau is removing the dust from some old PML-Q corruption cases.

Will the Azadi and Revolution marches converge on the decided day? While the PTI has announced its definite plans, Dr Qadri has yet to unfold his strategy. If they do join hands, the PML-N could be in for a tough summer.

The PTI chief has stated publicly that he agrees with 80 percent of Dr Qadri’s agenda and is open to agreement on a common agenda related to electoral reform and free, fair and transparent elections. It remains to be seen whether personal egos will be set aside to bring Dr Qadri and Imran Khan together to strengthen the combined opposition front.

Although the PAT chief advocates a peaceful ‘green’ revolution, Pakistanis remain apprehensive about the bloody nature of such radical movements. Perhaps Dr Qadri too, should consider softening his political slogans, just as Imran Khan has given up ‘Tsunami,’ for the relatively lighter ‘Azadi.’

And though it might still be too early for the army’s General Headquarters to formulate any contingency plans to deal with a possible security crisis in Islamabad this Independence day, it will be keeping a watchful eye on developments unfolding. Will the army be interested in averting the million plus long march on August 14? Or will it sit back and allow the civilian establishments to squabble amongst themselves and erode their own perceptions before the public in this time of war? Let us remember the history of long marches in this country. When undertaken by two major political parties (the PPP and PML-N), they never made it to the capital. Nawaz Sharif’s charged long marchers were stopped at Gujranwala after former army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani  intervened.

In early 1993, the PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto threatened  a march on Islamabad with thousands of supporters. The then army chief Gen. Abdul Waheed Kakar gave marching orders to both GIK and Nawaz Sharif and forced them to resign in July 1993. This act, referred to as the ‘Kakar model’ resulted in the dissolution of parliament, leading to fresh general elections under a neutral caretaker government in the end of 1993.

The government’s plan to invoke article 245 of the Constitution to call in the army in aid of civil power and take over the security of major cities, could well be in anticipation of the mass protests in Islamabad/Lahore coming up in August.

General Raheel Sharif, unlike his predecessor Gen. Kayani does not carry the baggage of any NRO including  Kayani’s role of a ‘guarantor’ that backed a highly corrupt and inefficient PPP government for five years. General Raheel has already won the hearts of most Pakistanis due to the decisive operation in North Waziristan, as well as his determination to go after militants in other parts of the country.

And so, it is prudent to ask, if the nation will see another soft intervention in the form of  the‘Kakar’ or ‘Kayani’ models. Or will General Raheel act as a neutral umpire and facilitate a political settlement to break any impasse?

Islamabad’s drawing rooms and corridors of power seem abuzz with talks of Thai, Bangladeshi and Egyptian models. For the PML-N, the important question is: can it contain the long marches and save the House of Sharif.

n    The writer is a political and defence analyst/ columnist