After the elections last year, Imran Khan accepted the results and acknowledged PML-N’s victory. He wanted a probe into a few cases where he felt rigging had occurred. These included his own constituency in Lahore where he lost.

The legal remedy for a review of the disputed results did not lie with the government. It rested with the Election Commission, the election tribunals and the courts. Imran’s party members did file petitions with the tribunals. PTI, in all, submitted 58 such petitions, 30 relating to the National Assembly and 28 Provincial Assembly seats. Out of these 58 cases, 39 stand decided. Of these 39, only two have been taken to the Supreme Court.

PML-N failed to foresee the need for dealing with the issue prudently. Its leadership could have established the point that it was not in power when the elections were held, that elections took place under the auspices of caretaker governments at the center and the provinces and that holding of elections was essentially the responsibility of the Election Commission. Not only was this not done, ineptly enough, but eyebrows were raised because of the way the Nadra chairman was preemptively removed.

The PML-N government failed again to read the message emanating from the mammoth meetings held by Imran at Lahore, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Bahawalpur. Even after the Bahawalpur meeting, the warning given by the PTI Chief was not heeded.

It speaks volumes of the PML-N’s insensitivity and complacency when one realizes that by then, the 17th June killings in Model Town had already taken place and leaks about plans hatched in London (where Imran and the Chaudharies had hob-nobbed with Qadri) had hit the media.

Brutal police action in Model Town weakened the incumbent government and provided a wind-fall boost to Qadri’s call for a “revolution.”

By Independence Day, Imran had upped the ante. He was calling for not only a remaking of the electoral system, a high level investigation of the elections, but also the ditching of the Prime Minister.

The government was at a loss for managing the long-marchers. By the 17th of August, the two “dharnas” were already in place. Fiery speeches were daily dished out to charged crowds. A move soon enough was made to enter the Red Zone where earlier Imran khan and Qadri had committed themselves not to enter. In the skirmishes between the police and the marchers, tear gas and rubber bullets were used. PTI and PAT followers occupied parts of the lawns of the Parliament and the Shahra-e-Dastur. Later, the PTV was attacked. The vital points—the buildings on Constitution Avenue—were earlier placed under the army’s control for protection under Article 25 of the Constitution.

For more than a month now, Imran and Qadri have been firing verbal shots at the government indulging in provocative rhetoric. The government on the other hand, has been on the defensive. A number of rounds of talks between the PML-N, PTI and PAT representatives have taken place. An opposition leaders’ Jirga has also remained activated. More or less, five out of the six PTI demands have been conceded. Qadri has also been successful in getting two FIRs lodged with the police implicating PML-N leaders including Shahbaz Sharif, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and the Prime Minister.

All that Imran wanted with regards to the 2013 elections and a reform of the electoral system has been conceded by the government. This includes an agreement to have a commission consisting of Supreme Court judges including the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Only a few differences remain to be sorted out.

As a rearguard action, the government has been holding a joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate where almost all parties other than PTI and PML-Q have pledged their support to the Prime Minister and parliamentary democracy.

Both Qadri and Imran are gunning for the present government. They do not accept the authority of the elected houses. Imran has declared a revolt. He has called for civil disobedience, refusal to pay electricity bills and taxes. Daily, both demonize ministers and members of the parliament as “dacoits and looters”. In his evening harangues, Imran unfurls new charges and accusations against the Sharif family. He shouts repeatedly that the dharna will continue till Nawaz Sharif tenders his resignation. Recently, Qadri directed his followers to break the legs of policemen if they proceed against them. The Chief of Army Staff is said to have been asked by the government to “facilitate” a settlement. The army has since clarified that it is not willing to be involved and will keep away. Imran’s cryptic invocations about the “umpire” raising his finger have been found hollow. He is now appealing to the Supreme Court to do its duty.

To Imran and Qadri’s credit, it must be said that they have successfully challenged the status quo and woken both the people and the government to the urgency of a fundamental change in the system which is saturated with corruption, injustice and scandalous inequities. This is a net gain for the masses and the country.

If the Prime Minister does not resign (and there is little sign of that happening), and the army does not walk in, what options do PTI and PAT have left to achieve their declared goals?

It is time Imran seriously reviews his resolve to secure the PM’s resignation. Why not await the Supreme Court’s probe into the 2013 election results and go for fresh polls if the Commission comes to the conclusion that there was widespread rigging?

There are other aspects also to consider. The country has suffered grievously economically and administratively. While official losses may have been exaggerated, it has to be conceded that the momentum built up so far has now been lost. The rupee’s value has come down. Foreign investment will diminish further. Pakistan is being rated as an unstable country, and the Chinese President’s visit had to be postponed.

Yet another worrisome aspect of these dharnas (recently pointed out by economist Kaiser Bengali) is the fact that they reflect a fight essentially between Punjabi politicians. In other words, this confrontation and quarrel between contenders for power belonging to just one province is holding the whole country hostage to their whims and ambitions. This is not a very happy development.

The government’s handling of the harrowing crisis kicked up by the PAT and PTI has been un-dynamic and inefficient. Nawaz Sharif has to do some quick and clear thinking, and change his personalized, family-oriented approach to decision making. He must strengthen and enlarge his cabinet and advisers and learn to adequately respond to the broadsides fired daily by the Imran-Qadri duo.

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.

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