LAHORE - The serious situation his government is facing at present could have been averted if the prime minister had said a few weeks earlier what he said in his televised address to the nation on Tuesday.” A stitch in time saves nine”, as they say.

But an over-confident government failed to assess the situation and the possibility of its snowballing into a bigger crisis.

Mian Nawaz Sharif said he would request the Chief Justice of Pakistan to constitute a three-judge commission to look into the allegations against the fairness of the 2013 elections and give its conclusive opinion. He did not say that the commission should confine the scrutiny to a specified number of seats. In other words, the government will have no objection even if the entire election is “audited”, to use the term coined by PTI Chairman Imran Khan.

When the controversy about the fairness of polls had started, Imran Khan had demanded scrutiny of just four constituencies. But then he said he wanted all constituencies audited, as in neighbouring Afghanistan on such a dispute. The government rejected the demand on one pretext or the other and various ministers ridiculed the PTI for taking up a “non-issue”.

Now the on-ground situation has changed to an extent that even a better offer made by the prime minister is not acceptable to the former cricket hero. He has now toughened his stance, saying the prime minister should step down before the formation of the proposed commission as in his presence the judicial body is not expected to work independently. At the same time, the PTI chief declared, he would go ahead with his Azadi march to Islamabad, come what may.

The resignation is a condition which is very difficult for the prime minister to accept. And this means the situation in the days ahead will worsen and tensions deepen.

Offer for talks was another important component of the prime minister’s speech. But there is no possibility of the PTI leadership agreeing to it.

That the government will not let anyone use the roads for decisions in the presence of parliament was the message the prime minister came up with for the PTI and the PAT, who are scheduled to start their long marches to the federal capital on August 14. Without naming these parties, the premier said in categorical terms that while accepting their rights to peaceful protests within the four walls of the Constitution, the government would not let anyone take the state structure hostage. This was a clear message that they should not expect a free hand while heading towards the federal capital along with their processions.

But the tough message has failed to deter the two parties. In fact, they cannot afford to review their plan at this stage when they have already made all preparations and are determined to stay in Islamabad till the ouster of the government.

In his speech the prime minister did not make any mention of the siege laid on the PAT Secretariat in Model for the past several days, where even those having nothing to do with politics having been facing serious problems in getting food items and other items of daily use. Containers have been put to block various roads, and have not been removed despite orders from the Lahore High Court. He also did not say anything about the closure of filling stations because of which vehicles are facing fuel shortages.

The prime minister’s silence about the situation in Model Town speaks a lot about the ‘sympathy’ he has for the people living in the neighbourhood of his younger brother, the chief minister.

An analysis of the recent situation shows that the government has been consistently receiving setbacks. It did its best to keep the PTI and the PAT apart. But at the end of the day the two have joined hands, thanks to the efforts made by various leaders whose own political future is at stake in case the PML-N retains power.

The government’s hopes that some parties would mediate to defuse tensions between the ruling party and the PTI have also been dashed. Except for the Jamaat-i-Islami, no other party sympathetic to the government played this role. And the JI leadership’s efforts also failed to yield any results.

The JI Amir met the PTI leadership and the Punjab chief minister even on Tuesday. But there is no progress, despite the fact that Maulana Sirajul Haq warned the two sides that “in case of an accident the ‘traffic police’ will round up both sides”.

The ‘traffic police’ rounded up the feuding parties so many time in the past that many think the situation shows they are somewhere nearby once again.