The Dawn Leaks saga has finally come to an end with. On the surface, all reports suggest that the civilian and military leadership in Pakistan have managed to come to a mutually agreeable settlement, with the latter dropping its objections to the ‘notification’ that had been issued by the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the findings of the official inquiry committee tasked with investigating the Leaks. The PML-N government itself seems to have dodged yet another bullet; fresh from the lease on life it received from the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Panama Case, the government appears to have averted a potentially catastrophic clash with the military establishment. Indeed, given statements made by the ISPR regarding the army’s support for democracy and the Constitution, some might even be tempted to welcome these developments as a sign that Pakistan is moving closer to defusing the perennial tension that has historically characterised relations between civilian governments and the military.

In reality, the fact remains that the military remains a powerful political actor in Pakistan. Whatever might be read in to the events of the past week, the military continues to exercise considerable influence over defence and foreign policy in Pakistan and this is unlikely to change any time soon. Similarly, the fact that the military has chosen not to directly interfere in politics in the past decade does not necessarily mean that it no longer has the capacity to do so, nor does it imply that it has not played a role behind the scenes. If anything, some might argue that the informal power exercised by the military – particularly in terms of using the media to shape narratives and perceptions – has only increased even as successive civilian governments have struggled to establish their own legitimacy amidst poor governance and allegations of corruption.

Still, democratization is a process, not an event, and progress is often painfully slow and incremental. The PML-N looks set to complete its term and barring the unexpected, 2018 will see Pakistan’s second successful democratic and peaceful transition of power from one elected government to another. For all the criticism that is levelled against them, the past ten years have seen Pakistan’s democratic institutions – including the courts and parliament – slowly start to develop into more robust and responsive entities and while much remains to be done, there are some small signs of improvement. In that same vein, the fact that overt conflict between the military and civilian government has not caused the system to come crashing down might also be a cause for celebration.

All of this is lost, of course, on the PTI, which has immediately taken to the streets and airwaves to denounce the Dawn Leaks as an Indian conspiracy, facilitated by the PML-N, aimed at maligning the military and endangering Pakistan’s security. What the PTI hopes to achieve by flogging this dead horse, especially given how the military itself seems to have dropped this issue, is not immediately clear. At the very least, it can be assumed that by tarring Nawaz Sharif and his government with charges of treason and collusion with India, Imran Khan and his party are extending an attack they have been making for months, hoping to discredit the Prime Minister by portraying him as an Indian apologist/agent willing to sacrifice Pakistan’s national interest at the altar of greed. It would also not be beyond the realm of possibility to assume that Imran Khan, with his history of looking for salvation at the hands of the ‘Third Umpire’, would be happy to see the continuation of the civil-military discord that has plagued Pakistan in the past.

Suggesting that Nawaz Sharif’s alleged soft spot for India makes him unfit to rule ties in neatly with the PTI’s other main contention, namely that corruption committed by the Prime Minister and his family also renders them unsuitable for holding elected office. There are still several months before the JIT constituted by the Supreme Court submits its final report on the Panama Papers and it can only be hoped that the probe is completed in an effective and transparent manner (however unlikely that may seem). After all, if the Prime Minister or elements of the government are found to be guilty of the crimes they have been accused of, it is entirely in the interests of democracy for them to be punished in line with the law. An interest in democratic continuity should not imply blanket immunity for those who hold office, especially when the mechanisms through which they are held accountable rely on the courts rather than appeals to the military.

What is more worrying, however, is Imran Khan’s contention that he will continue to hound the Sharifs on the issue of corruption even if the JIT is unable to establish their guilt. While this is not problematic in and of itself, and while the PTI has every right to pursue this path, it might be more useful to switch gears and focus on issues that voters at the local level are probably more concerned with. Despite tall claims to the contrary by the PML-N and the various parties in power at the provincial level, it is clear that Pakistan continues to be characterized by low levels of social development and a widening disparity between the rich and the poor. Across Punjab and Sindh, for example, it is not difficult to find towns and villages suffering from decades of neglect; even as billions are pumped into massive infrastructure projects across the country, tens of millions of people continue to experience the privations of extreme poverty and deprivation and the predations of a parasitic elite. Raising these issues does not require abandoning the crusade against the PML-N’s alleged corruption, but it could be reasonably argued that the failure of the PML-N, PPP, and other parties to tangibly improve the lives of Pakistan’s citizens could serve as a more potent rallying cry for a party like the PTI.

The fact that the PTI continues to be associated with shrill denunciations of the Sharifs, rather than a widespread grassroots campaign to improve governance, speaks volumes. Elections in Pakistan do not hinge on perceptions of corruption; that the political class is inherently and irredeemably corrupt is something most voters have probably internalized. Instead, voters tend to be rightly concerned about service delivery, usually choosing to back a patron or party best placed to intervene in local thana-katcheri politics and interface with the state to get things done. If the PTI is serious about taking on the PML-N and other parties, it will necessarily have to present a compelling alternative to this status quo.