Analysts and commentators sitting in media talk shows in air conditioned studios who saw no more than a few thousand tired long  marchers should have gone to Islamabad to see for themselves the mammoth crowds of the Inqilab and Azadi marches.

It was a memorable experience, witnessing the spectacular sight when the two human waves converged around 8 pm on August 19th, to march jointly towards the red zone in a most disciplined manner. Both Dr. Qadri and  Imran Khan enjoyed complete control over their marchers.

The inqilabis and azadi marchers comprise angry men, women and youth from all segments of society reflecting an overall frustration over grave misgovernance, election fraud, increasing poverty, lack of social justice and the non existent accountability of a corrupt elite.

An acute sense of deprivation was visible amongst a majority of the marchers especially those from the lower middle classes and tribals from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, many of whom had seen posh Islamabad for the first time. They questioned the unequal distribution of wealth and wondered whether Pakistan was created for the welfare of all Pakistanis or designed for the prosperity of a few elitist Pakistani families.

One could especially see blood in the eyes of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT)’s workers who failed to get the FIR registered against the perpetrators of the Model Town massacre after more than two months since the bloody event. Their bitterness is unquestionably justified over a lack of progress in the FIR case even after recent directives of the Sessions Court to proceed as per law. The government’s petition challenging the Sessions Court verdict will be an acid test of the Lahore High Court’s ability to deliver fair justice in favour of poor families of Model Town victims vis a vis the mighty and the powerful.

The PAT workers wondered if it was democratic on the part of the Punjab government to besiege thousands of peaceful citizens including a large number of women and children on Yom –e Shuhada and in its aftermath for almost ten days in Minhaj ul Quran (MUQ)? Was it not a violation of human rights to re-enact Israel’s ‘Gaza’ by blocking food and medical supplies to these innocent MUQ inhabitants awaiting the long march?

Moreover, under which law can a government forcibly confiscate hundreds of cargo containers of private business companies to seal localities under cover of security? This undemocratic and authoritarian practice must be brought to an end.

The marchers impressed with their dedication and commitment to follow and stand by their leaders despite the gruelling August heat and humidity as well as the ad-hoc logistic support arrangements.

Those who doubted the abilities of Pakistani women to endure extreme  outdoor conditions should have seen the resilience, patience  and courage  of PAT’s  women workers. Even PTI’s sizeable so called ‘burger’ crowd were not found wanting in enthusiasm and conviction in adverse conditions.

If the government’s strategy is to tire or starve out the dharna sitters, it may be grossly underestimating their resolute will and motivation to sustain the sit in at all cost. That Dr Qadri and Imran Khan are leading from the front and vowed to stand united in the face of any use of force, indicates the atmosphere of defiance prevailing in Azadi square.

Is time running out for Nawaz Sharif? With the nation undergoing a mental paralysis and a deadlock in political negotiations, it seems that the Prime Minister is oblivious to vociferous  slogans of ‘Go Nawaz Go’  by  highly charged and motivated protestors in D-square (now renamed Azadi square).

Does Nawaz Sharif not understand the gravity of the situation now that a sea of angry protestors stands at his door? What if a desperate mob attempts to break into parliament and the Prime Minister’s office? Will the army troops confront them? Can the nation afford another Model Town style tragedy in case of a crackdown against the determined demonstrators in Azadi Square?

While the army has remained perfectly neutral until now, the government remains under intense pressure from GHQ to resolve the political stalemate in a peaceful manner and as early as possible. But the khakis have a limit to which they can tolerate political instability and civil unrest, especially in the federal capital.

It will be more shameful for our political elite if the army chief has to ultimately act as the arbitrator to facilitate a political agreement between the government and Azadi Square leaders.

By throwing their weight behind Nawaz Sharif, the US government will only add to Sharif’s credibility problems and strengthen public perception about the pre-decided international script to install PPP and PML-N governments in Islamabad, each taking a five year turn.

We are also reminded of a similarly strong statement issued by the US government at the height of the Army – Nawaz Sharif standoff on the Kargil crisis a few weeks before the military takeover on October 12, 1999.

Since the June 17 Model Town disaster, there has been emerging mistrust between the rulers and law enforcement agencies. After the reported refusal of IG Police Punjab and the now dismissed IG Police Islamabad to use force on verbal orders against unarmed and peaceful citizens, the PML-N leadership should read the writing on the wall.

 While giving due consideration to Imran Khan’s six point demands and Dr Qadri’s reforms agenda, the political mediators must aim for a win -win formula for all stakeholders; one that does not derail democracy.

The  parliament must  play its role too, in saving the system. In Pakistan’s hypocritical democracy, the loudest voice against the long marches, not surprisingly came from a veteran pukhtun politician whose many immediate family members occupy seats in federal and provincial assemblies, and government set-ups.

 The saner approach for parliament should be to prevail upon Nawaz Sharif  to break the impasse by opting for the constitutional  and democratic path of early elections in the first half of 2015 under a genuinely neutral caretaker setup, newly constituted election commission and meaningful electoral reforms.

 If Nawaz Sharif fails to show  statesmanship and political foresight in arriving at a fair political settlement with his opponents, or if uncontrolled violence sets in, then the khakis  may be forced to lower their threshold and act soon in the larger national interest. In such a scenario, only the government and its allies in parliament would be held to blame.

n    The writer is a retired brigadier and a

    political/defence analyst and columnist.