PTI chief Imran Khan’s announcement of a renewal of his sit-in on November 30 has caused tremors in the government, but has not caused the same degree of fear as last time, when the sit-in started on August 14. The last time, the government was under the threat of falling. By that measure, Imran has failed. The government is still there, and has shown that its will for power is greater than his.

One positive that Imran Khan has taken from the previous attempt is the attention he has enjoyed. That has enabled him to project his message on the media; that the system is corrupt, and that the two main parties, the PML(N) and the PPP, must make way for him. The exact methodology by which this desirable result is to be brought about is not defined. However, the result is supposed to be clear: the ascension of Imran Khan to the Prime Ministership. The present incumbent, on the other hand, has shown that he is not willing to comply, to the extent that Imran is going to Islamabad despite a warrant out against him for the attack on PTV

However, his co-accused, Dr Tahirul Qadri, the PAT chief, will be joining him. Dr Qadri called off the PAT component of his sit-in and went back abroad, but has returned in time to rejoin the sit-in. However, this time, if he does not use his illness as an excuse to stay away, he will return more as a sympathizing politician like Sheikh Rashid rather than as an independent party chief. If the PTI is indeed a replacement for the PPP, then PAT is probably the replacement for the PML(N).

If the PTI is supposed to attract all the liberals, PAT is then supposed to attract the conservatives. The PAT is thus supposed to attract all those who presently support the PML (N). It should be noted that both the heads of the ‘old’ parties, started out as protégés of the military; Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Ayub Khan, Mian Nawaz Sharif of Ziaul Haq. The same can be said of Imran Khan and Dr Qadri, but they were never members of a Musharraf Cabinet, just of the National Assembly. They can be seen as back-ups for the real product of the Musharraf era, his Local Government Minister, Umar Asghar Khan, who committed suicide or was murdered after he had left Musharraf’s Cabinet. He had not met much success in producing a political vehicle, which would have furthered the agenda of the Musharraf martial law, which included the breaking of the PPP. This was evidenced in the formation of the Patriots, and the post-2013 formation of the Watan Party under Aftab Sherpao. The initial inclusion of the Watan Party in the PTI –led coalition in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa is consistent with both parties being agency products.

That does leave the question of what exactly happened to Bhutto and Nawaz. The simple answer is that they realised their own power, and as support coalesced around them, not the agencies, they felt that the agencies needed them more than they needed the agencies. There is at present no guarantee that Imran and Dr Qadri will not go the same way as Bhutto and Mian Nawaz, and that is very much a future problem. It should be noted that while Bhutto rallied the left, Nawaz rallied the right. As the PPP has shown, once a vibrant party comes into existence, it assumes a dynamic of its own, and replacing it is extremely difficult. More than Imran Khan, Umar Asghar showed that difficulty. However, while Imran was supposed to replace the PPP, the problem of who is to replace the PML(N) remains. That would be Dr Qadri.

The Jamaat has also got its hat in the ring, but is seen as too much of a minority, and too closely linked with the Zia regime, which was all very well in the Reagan years when the ascendancy of religion in Islamabad resonated in Washington; but does not sit well now during the War on Terror. If a religion-based conservative party must be there as an option, the PAT fits the War on Terror better than the Jamaat. It should not be thought that the drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan mark the end of the War on Terror, not even in the region. The Jamaat does not figure in the future the US sees for the region, though the PAT does. The Jamaat does not see eye to eye on the centrality of India to the region with the US, while the PAT does not seem to object. Dr Qadri is settled in Canada after all, and Canada is merely an adjunct of the US.

Imran has also used the departure of Dr Qadri to engage in a tour of the Punjab, where he brought the sit-in to the mofussil, with Islamabad actually being a sort of culmination of what had become a campaign tour in all but name. Both Imran and Dr Qadri have their eyes on coming local government polls. That they are being held at all is more to the credit of the Supreme Court rather than the political parties, and Imran’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has given up the much-vaunted biometric system, and will hold polls in April, two years after the last election. At the same time, the tour will prove useful if there was an election.

Imran’s ‘renewal of commitment’ to the sit-in indicates a satisfaction with its achievements: he has not quite backed down from his demand for the Prime Minister’s resignation, but he has acknowledged that his resignation could come after the proposed judicial commission found the 2013 elections defective. Thus the nation will focus on the crux of his demand, and ask the obvious question: what if the commission finds that rigging did not take place on the scale he says it did?

There is no evidence that Imran will accept the result. If Imran was democrat enough to accept results, he would have left Mian Nawaz Sharif to rule long before. For all his speechifying about the merits of democracy, he has not addressed two questions. The first is how one person, as he alleges, is able to corrupt all the checks on the system, and second, how to handle unfair elections. In the cradle of democracy, the UK, wildly unfair elections were held for centuries before the concept of fair elections came in. Indeed, before 1872, the ballot was not even secret! In cricket, the umpire’s decision is final, even if it is wrong. In elections, who is the umpire? To claim that they have all been bought by an individual merely begs the question of how this is to be stopped. Imran is not helping in naming a Chief Election Commissioner, which indicates he wants the option of claiming any future election as rigged. That might satisfy his supporters, but it does not advance democracy.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.