Watching the local news over the past few days has been a mind-numbing experience, as depressing as a fire at an orphanage, and as exciting as watching paint dry. Sitting in front of the television, many viewers could probably feel their skin start to peel and flake as they watched channels compete with each other to deliver breathless, almost hysterical coverage of vehicles moving from point A to point B as slowly and pointlessly as possible. When not being subjected to flashy graphics framing the marches as being world historical events of unprecedented proportions, or incredibly dull footage of roads and shipping containers that jarred discordantly with the histrionics of reporters who might as well have been announcing the second coming of Christ (which, on second thought, is probably how some of them actually viewed Imran Khan’s trip to Islamabad), viewers were forced to endure the bloviation of clearly partisan hacks being egged on by equally partisan anchors as they collectively plunged into the roiling ocean of inanity that passes for informed comment and debate in mainstream media. Comic relief only came in the form of Sheikh Rashid, the pantomime villain metaphorically (and sometimes literally) twirling his moustache with glee while dreamily contemplating a bloody end to the PML-N government.

Two days after the PTI tsunami was supposed to wash away the entire edifice of the existing political order, an expectant and grateful nation continues to wait for salvation at the hands of its latest self-anointed messiah. Imran Khan’s arrival in Islamabad, capping off a journey in which he and his party experienced trials and tribulations that, by their own account, were no less arduous than those experienced by Mao’s communists when they undertook the original Long March in 1935, has done little to bring any hope of resolution to the current political impasse. Reports of a softening of stances on both sides of the divide have proven to be premature, with the PTI leadership continuing to insist on the resignation of Nawaz Sharif and the dissolution of the current government. In a shocking turn of events that seems to have taken many analysts by surprise, the PML-N has decided to not acquiesce to this demand, preferring instead to try and hold on to power. Relegated to the status of a sideshow thus far, it is only a matter of time before Tahir-ul-Qadri will also make his presence felt. If past experience is anything to go by, this can only be a bad thing.

In the recent past, numerous commentators have sagely compared the current political situation to moments of revolutionary rupture in Pakistan and different parts of the world. Others have gone a step further, associating the party with a radical agenda that is notable for its complete and total lack of mooring in reality. Indeed, comparisons with revolutionary movements of the past, many of which involved sacrifices by millions of working men and women fighting for better lives for themselves and their children, are distasteful to the extreme. If the presence of renowned working class heroes like Ch. Pervaiz Elahi and Ch. Shujaat Hussain was not enough to disabuse people of any revolutionary potential they might attribute to the PTI, the party’s continued reliance on the most reactionary segments of society should be reason enough to question its objectives. Bankrolled by billionaires, influenced by right-wing foreign policy hawks and neo-liberal economists, and supported by opportunistic politicians who have made a career out of switching from one party to another in search of a better deal, the PTI has more than a passing resemblance to the parties it ostensibly opposes. Indeed, contrary to the fevered protestations of its most vociferous supporters, it is certainly not self-evident that replacing the PML-N with the PTI would lead to any meaningful change in Pakistan. The PTI’s shortcomings and limitations are only compounded by its inability to espouse its beliefs in any form other than empty platitudes. Yes, rigging elections is bad. Yes, corruption is bad. Yes, Pakistan’s economy is in a bad state. True as these statements may be, they do not constitute a party platform or a comprehensive vision for change. What the PTI intends to do about the problems it refers to, remains as unclear as ever, with cricketing metaphors and braggadocio replacing serious, substantive debate.

Critics of the PTI, when not having their integrity questioned, are often accused of supporting the status quo and parties like the PML-N. While this kind of attack betrays a worrying worldview that reduces everything to black or white, it is important to recognize that the PTI deserves the critical scrutiny it receives precisely because it casts itself as being different from its rivals. The sad reality is that there are no good options in Pakistan. All the mainstream parties are fundamentally flawed, united only by their contempt for the electorate and their pursuit of elite interests. The military has been even worse, presiding over periods of dictatorial rule that have only entrenched the structural problems that characterize Pakistan’s democratic politics. The PML-N and its ilk deserve all the opprobrium they receive and more but bereft of any revolutionary ideology or mass support generated through the championing of progressive ideas aimed at improving the lives of the dispossessed, the disenfranchised, and the downtrodden, the PTI is doomed to relive the failures of the past.

The PTI’s demands for electoral reform are valid and necessary. If such reforms were to be enacted as a result of the PTI’s protests, it would be an incredibly good outcome for Pakistan and an achievement the party could rightly be proud of. If, on the other hand, the PTI were to push for the dissolution of the government in its entirety, it is likely that such a move will derail Pakistan’s consolidation of democracy. Democratic norms and institutions take time to develop and mature, and progress is often slow and incremental. In the absence of a truly revolutionary movement aimed at a fundamental transformation of state and society, supporting the democratic process, and helping to improve the mechanisms through which the system can enforce checks on the abuse of power, is the best means through which to eventually hold the charlatans and frauds who dominate the political system accountable. Such an approach will take time and patience, but it is more likely to work in the long-run than naked power grabs backed by dubious forces and lacking in anything even remotely resembling a plan.

   The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.