It is wrong to accuse the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) of using the Peshawar school massacre to call off its four-month-old sit-in in Islamabad, but that is what happened. The massacre may well have been in the capital of the only PTI-ruled province, but because it took place in an Army Public School in the cantonment, it escaped the blame. However, the PTI was taking flak over the massacre because Imran is counted as a supporter of the Taliban.

Though it led to the call-off of the sit-in, it seems to coincide with the PTI’s exhaustion, at least of ideas. After the sit-in, and the takeovers of PTV and Parliament Building, Imran Khan had held rallies all around the country. Then came the shutdowns of various cities, which were to culminate in a grand national shutdown. Then the massacre happened. It allowed Imran to claim the ability to shut the country down, as well as reason not to.

PTI negotiations with the government showed that the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) was irrelevant. Though PAT supporters may think that the party remains in reserve, ready to exploit the situation at some time in the future, at present, PAT is nowhere to be seen, especially since its leader went to the USA for an angiography after falling ill. PAT is, for example, out of the post-Peshawar activities. That means that the PTI is the sole claimant to the title of genuine opposition.

That it has established this claim is in itself an achievement. Though it has won one province, it is far from having replaced either of the two major parties. However, the shutdowns have shown that the PTI is now the primary opposition, and there is a trilateral, rather than a bilateral, system. This was not reflected in the 2013 election. It was mainly a breakout election for the PTI, in which the PTI showed that it was capable of winning. However, that created a number of problems. First, though it was a breakout election, it did not yield the desired result, which was that Imran head the government. Hence, the current movement. The PTI will probably also have to tackle the problem of ‘electables’, who went to it only in the last election. Those ‘electables’ have pushed aside the ‘founding activists’ who were dissatisfied with the political system as it existed, even though it was the latter who provide it its energy, not to mention the ability to hold protests like in Karachi, Faisalabad and Lahore.

The PTI has had called off its sit-in and may use the Peshawar APC to return to the political community. After all, Imran Khan has already shared space with those he called corrupt every night, without setting upon them, or even making them promise anything. His farewell speech to the sit-in was full of pious hopes, but the government has not yet set up the judicial commission he demands, nor has the Prime Minister resigned. Indeed, the latter can claim to have won.

The PTI seeks to replace the PPP as the main opponent of the PML(N). Whatever the response of the PPP, it is clear that the PTI has made it appear anemic. The PTI is exploiting the fact that the PPP is presently engaged in an internal power struggle between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Asif Zardari. However, this is a particularly bad time. It has meant that the PPP has not been able to respond as effectively as it could to a campaign that is directed against it as much as the PML(N).

The Karachi and Lahore shutdowns were held in the strongholds of the MQM and the PML(N) respectively, and were important for that reason. These are also the cities where the PTI snatched away a seat each from the MQM and the PML(N), which had enjoyed overwhelming majorities there since 1988, shutting out everyone else since 1990, barring a few exceptions. The PTI is making waves in urban areas, while the PPP has become a rural party in the Punjab. The PTI is poised to take over from the PPP as the ‘progressive’ party. Lahore has an especial significance, because this is where Imran Khan was defeated in the 2013 election, by almost 9000 votes, 93,389 to 84,517, and where one of its most high-profile election petitions is running on, the one by Imran against Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who went on to become Speaker of the National Assembly. This might explain the attack on the Metro Bus by PTI workers, for the Metro Bus runs through that constituency, and is credited with helping the PML(N) retain the seat.

Imran had another overt reason to protest so strongly: he had conceded the demand for Mian Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. He did not wish to give his opponents the idea that he is a pushover. The formation of a judicial commission to investigate his allegations was his point of resistance, but even that has not been insisted upon. Of course, if he does not trust the government, he cannot expect to be trusted, because he has breached the first requirement of democracy: accepting the result.

Actually, Imran is probably a prisoner of democracy, in the sense that it demands of leaders that they respond to what their followers want – and they want what the leader tells them to want. Thus, the goal of what was started by the PTI on Independence Day was the enthroning of Imran, who used to be known as ‘King’ Khan in his playing days, as Prime Minister. The Judicial Commission, when appointed, must find accordingly. Otherwise it would find itself subjected to the same accusations as any person or institution has, which has failed to fall in with his wishes. The problem is, the election was parliamentary, and the PTI did not lose narrowly, but badly. That has two implications. First, that for Imran to become PM, a lot of results would have to be reversed. Second, if at all that happened, there would be a large number of unseated winners. As all of them expended large sums to contest, and some were heirs of previous winners, there would be a lot of appeals and legal challenges. The solution might indeed be a fresh election, but there is no sign of any solid electoral reform of the kind Imran promised.

Therefore, if a judicial commission gives the current government a clean chit, or even a chit which lets it stay in office, what will Imran Khan do? It has become an article of faith for his supporters that the 2013 election was rigged, and they have gone through too much to have the commission recommend a few election reforms. The problem is that Imran has not found any way of discussing the elephant in the room, the agencies which are supposed to determine election results. Indeed, he is supposed to be working for one of the goals of the agencies, military rule. It is also to be noted that in his last speech in Islamabad, he quoted the Corps Commander Peshawar to explain his call-off, not the Prime Minister.

No one should dispute the PTI’s right to demonstrate, or carry out any other political activity. However, if its campaign is being orchestrated by the very same people who created the present election results, it will not result in improvement.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.