Take heed, he will not. The ignominious retreat of Dr. Tahir ul Qadri in the face of parliamentary solidarity should have served as a lesson to any intelligent person. But according to sources, even though the PTI is running short of funds to continue the ‘sit-in’ in Islamabad, Mr. Khan does not want to end his dharna.

An interesting news report in this paper a couple of days ago reported that with the ‘Rawalpindi-Islamabad’ chapter of the PTI no longer funding the ‘sit-in,’ the expenses are now solely being borne by a few wealthy members of the party i.e., Jahangir Tareen, Azan Khan Swati, Abdul Aleem Khan and some in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. KP government ministers, including Chief Minister Khattak are in charge of the logistics of bringing people to and from the protest venue. This fits in well with news reports and videos of a KP government car being used to haul generator fuel to the dharna.

Reportedly, most of the central executive committee members of the PTI now believe in the futility of carrying on the dharna and are in favour of quitting it. Now that the thousands of strong workers of Dr. Tahir ulQadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek, who provided a cover of respectability to the numbers sitting in D-Chowk have gone home empty handed, these CEC members do not see any hope of obtaining anything from the government and want to find a face saving solution to the embarrassing impasse they have landed themselves in.

Indeed, they had supposedly advised as much to Imran Khan, when the party was informed by PAT of its intention to go home. These PTI leaders want to slink back into parliament and continue their ‘struggle’ from there – as should always have been the case. But Mr. Khan and ‘some of his unelected friends want us to stay away from the lower house’ is how the inside story goes now.

Thus it appears, that just as Dr. Qadri and PAT had to quit D Chowk empty handed, so will PTI. It is tragic that both these parties could have wrested so many justified concessions for the people and for the democratic project from the government; yet the PAT went away with nothing and the PTI knows it will too. Either they did not know when to quit while they were ahead, or concessions for the people and for the democratic project were never their real aims. Had reform or accountability been the main aims of the PTI, it would have treated the Prime Minister’s resignation as a bargaining chip only. But it is now clearer than ever, that the sole aim of Mr. Khan was to use the Umpire to dethrone the government through illegal means for the crown he so covets.

But the Finger never arose and when Gen Zaheerul Islam’s retirement was announced and his successor named, it should have been a sign to the wise to start packing their bags and looking for a safe exit. PAT and the PTI could then have declared victory for having gained important concessions on electoral reforms and accountability commissions etc.

PTI insiders now say that they are being placated with the jalsas and dharnas generating popularity for the next elections at least. What Mr. Khan and his unelected friends mean by the ‘next elections’ is anyone’s guess. But it cannot reasonably be expected that they are trying to give birth to a popular wave for elections in 2018, in 2014. Hence, it appears this posse still remains hopeful that either the new Umpire will be convinced very soon, or somehow parliament will split and early elections will be called.

The PPP has also begun to gear up to reclaim its turf in Sind, and returned to the public arena with a big bang with Bilawal Bhutto’s jalsa on Oct 18 in Karachi. The party is said to be strategizing to make inroads into its lost territory in Punjab as well. Many analysts believe the PPP has smelt mid-term elections, hence the election mode jalsas.

Should mid-term elections take place as a result of the PTI and PAT’s false narratives, it would be a regression in Pakistan’s democracy project. In the unfortunate event however, the election would be a single issue affair. It would not be about rigging, governance, education, electricity or militancy. The central question for the voters then will be whether the PMLN government should have been cut short in this manner or not; whether a rabble of a few thousands backed by umpires and unholy alliances should continue to hold the country hostage.

Surely, on this issue, whether sympathies and loyalties belong to the ANP, the PPP, the MQM, the PMLN or any other party, voters who value democracy itself above all, will vote to put the PMLN back in the seat to confirm to undemocratic forces that Pakistan has indeed changed.

    The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.