Instead of gearing up for Independence day festivities, the Government is busy fortifying Islamabad against a new crop of besiegers. In a sad irony that has often repeated itself in Pakistan, the threat to an elected government comes not from the military’s ranks but from self professed democrats. Tahir ul Qadri and Imran Khan may have their own grievances against the PML-N, but their objective is ominously similar: to unseat a democratically elected Government. Qadri and Khan have by now proven to be the masters of agitational politics and by all indication will spare no effort to lay siege to the capital. Instead of pacification by other means, the Government has taken a confrontational stance, evident in the violent clampdown of Qadri’s supporters in Lahore on 17 June, 2014 and the imposition of section 144 - which many label as a ‘mini martial law’.

What makes the impending marches more lethal are their timing. After months of political squabbling, a fragile but united political front emerged to counter the terrorist threat, thus launching the military offensive in North Waziristan. With the Government wrangling complexities of the gravest military challenge the country has faced since the ’71 war, Khan and Qadri seem to have caught the Government inside a moment of vulnerability. Political instability in Islamabad would surely stir confusion in the ranks of the civilian command, compelling an already wary military to act unilaterally. As an unintended consequence, this may potentially create further rifts between the military and civilian leadership in the not too distant future.

Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri both claim that they have the Pakistani people by their side, while their electoral record suggests otherwise. As it stands, the PML-N holds 190 seats in the National Assembly compared to PTI’s modest 34 seats. Even the PPP with its 46 seats managed to win more seats than the PTI in the 2013 general elections, despite being unpopular and unable to campaign. Hypothetically speaking, even if the PTI does regain the 4 unresolved constituencies of NA-110, NA-122, NA-125 and NA-154, it would in no way hurt the overwhelming mandate that the PML-N wields in the lower house. Furthermore, the PML-N with its 21 seats could have even elbowed out the PTI from forming a provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, had it pursued the formation of a coalition government in the province more vigorously.

On the other hand, Qadri’s party, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek does not hold any political office by virtue of not contesting the 2013 elections. He catapulted himself from relative obscurity to the limelight on the back of a lightning campaign right before the general elections demanding electoral reform. After staging a sit-in right in the heart of Islamabad, the Government did concede in granting him oversight in the 2013 elections. The legal value of such an agreement is highly suspect, since the Election Commission Of Pakistan is constitutionally the sole administrator and arbiter of the popular ballot. After another spell of dormancy, this time around he has grander ambitions, aiming to displace a Government that in his eyes has failed to live up to public expectation. By his revolutionary zeal he has squarely placed himself as a messianic figure in the eyes of the public, attempting for the second time to bring about a revolution in Pakistan.

The extent to which the army cooperates with the current government as the marchers surge in the capital will prove to be the decisive factor. It is worth mentioning that during the Arab spring, it was only when the Egyptian army switched allegiance to the Tahrir square protestors, that Hosni Muabarak’s reign became history. Equally important, is the finesse by which the Nawaz Government weathers the storm. So far it has employed violent repression against the protestors in sharp contrast to the previous PPP government, which opted for negotiations and pacification.

Whatever the outcome, a dangerous pattern seems to be emerging in Pakistani politics. Anyone holding a grievance with enough political support can ride roughshod over the capital and exact concessions while jeopardizing the balance of power. For what its worth, the PML-N won by a landslide victory in the polls. Any attempt to displace them also derails the cause of democracy. Ironically, it is the date of Pakistan’s birth on which the strength of Pakistan’s nascent democracy will be tested once more. One can only hope it emerges from the morass, stronger and better.

 The writer has been associated with the news media as a producer and is a research analyst in the NGO sector. He tweets @raheel_