Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) threat of street agitation has been hovering at the edges of the political discourse for quite a while without really concerning the government overmuch. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was busy battling a more direct foe in Imran Khan, and the support of the PPP – even an ambivalent, wavering support – could be counted on as the bedrock of that battle. With the return of PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari that bedrock has certainly shifted, and with December 27 – Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary and deadline for the acceptance of PPP demands – almost upon us, the government seems a little too late in tackling the problem.

The most evident effect of Mr Zardari’s return has been a flux in the state of political allegiances. First on the list was Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. According to a handout issued by the party in Lahore, both parties on Sunday discussed the formation of a “grand alliance” against the government and agreed to make joint struggle for the national cause in the future. The longevity of such grand opposition alliances is usually short-lived, especially when made out of political expediency and not principle concurrence, but regardless of their time-span such alliances have never been good news for the government in Pakistan’s history. If the PPP manages to cajole other parties into joining, then it will hold quite a hefty bargaining chip in its hands.

Already advances have been made to other parties it seems. It has been reported that Mr Zardari has sought the support of Jamaat-e-Islaami (JI) in exchange for striking down the forced conversion bill in Sindh Assembly. A deplorable and Machiavellian move surely, but more troubling to the government ranks. Furthermore, Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUI-Fazl) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman – who in the past has benefited immensely from cozy relationships with both the government and the opposition – has also been active in these uncertain times. Reportedly Mr Zardari and Mr Fazlur Rehman have shared several conversations over the phone, the content of which is not too difficult to discern.

With political manoeuvring matching the public rhetoric, the PPP’s threats are starting to look real and the government is scrambling to avoid another showdown in the streets. Speaker National Assembly has invited all parties to “initiate debate” on the PPP’s four demands but such a weak proposal is too little and definitely too late.