ISLAMABAD - Islamabad is being barricaded again. The shipping containers have sprouted ubiquitously out of the roads and sidewalks. Imran Khan is once again promising a revolution like never before. The government is pretending to be sitting pretty, having managed to cling on, despite appearing to be teetering perilously close to an ouster few months ago. Imran Khan seems further emboldened and does not show any signs of letting up. It’s simply not the nature of the man. Both sides feel that the duel fought out on the Constitution Avenue battered and bruised the other side more.

Expectations this time, therefore, are higher. The sense of confidence to win the second round has swelled up. Khan's party has learnt from the past failings and has campaigned more vigorously to bring out more and more people on the streets this time around. The government has already disarmed its police force, handing them batons and withdrawing guns and bullets. There can be a tidal wave of people but without violence, it would not rock their boat. 

It’s Déjà vu. Nov 30 is already feeling like August 14th.

There have been, however, some fundamental shifts in the political landscape. There was an abiding sense that some elements of the military-intelligence establishment were supporting the protesters. But a consensus was lacking and since the man who really calls the shots, the Chief, did not throw his weight behind the opposition, the movement fizzled out. There has been ample anecdotal evidence to support such speculations but, as always, no smoking gun. Taking the conspiracy theory at face value, one is compelled to infer that for now, with the change of guard at Aabpara, there will inevitably be a review of strategy. The dynamics of mid August will simply not work in the last leg of the year. If there has to be some puppeteering, it would now come at another time, in another context and in another shape and form.

The biggest point of discord between the military and PM Nawaz Sharif of early days was relations with India. Trade and normalisation of relations was high on the premier's agenda. Now, it’s on the back-burner. There is no sense of immediacy. The back-pedalling has been obvious and in recent weeks, Kashmir, the perennial issue between the countries, is back in the limelight. The aggressive posture of the Indians has muted the doves in the government and the hawks have made a resurgence.

On national security and policy matters, the political government is singing the same tune as the military establishment.

During the tumult of August protests, Tahirul Qadri's followers posed the most formidable challenge to the government's writ and authority. After the sudden retreat, Qadri till now has not announced any plans to mount yet another offensive on the capital. Instead, he is busy consolidating himself in other regions where his support among the locals is high. Government officials take a more sanguine view of Qadri's about-face and say that he has been "neutralised."

Another big factor that added to the sense of vulnerability of the government was former ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf's treason trial. With the latest special court directive, throwing the net around the alleged abettors of Nov 2007 emergency rule, the trial proceedings have become even more complicated and, most certainly, even more protracted. As long as there is no immediate sense of a conviction against the former army chief, the discontent within the military ranks against the perceived humiliation of their former boss would remain under the surface - and seem less threatening and intimidating to the government.

So, while the most potent threats have diminished, what greater damage can Imran Khan do on Nov 30? Apparently, not a lot, if the damage has to be assessed in terms of the potential of forcing the ruling government out. On the other side, Imran Khan has achieved substantially in terms of entrenching himself as the real opposition and challenger to the established political parties. He can further steel himself if his party works out with the government - and other political parties - an effective and transparent overhaul of the tainted and dysfunctional electoral system. That would ensure that whenever the next elections take place, his party's prominence and further rise would be inevitable.

On Nov 30, Imran Khan and PM Nawaz Sharif will not be gladiators in a ring. The joust between the two is more like one side aiming at the political death of the other through a thousand cuts. Insisting that Nov 30 would be a cataclysmic day that would rock the foundations of the government is a bit of a stretch. It would nevertheless be a day of high drama and TV friendly fracas. After all, the show must go on.