Considering the recent verbal war between the PTI and the government, the reader can be forgiven for mistaking the date as August 14th. Imran khan is beating on the war drums, vowing just retribution and spitting hellfire at anyone and everyone. The government is beating its chest and issuing barely veiled threats, while it bunkers down and attempts to appear nonchalant. Meanwhile, Islamabad is overrun with containers yet again. Despite a distasteful sense of déjà vu, there are some jarring notes in the palette.

For the most part, both sides are beset by uncertainty. The government is oscillating between letting the protests take place and planning to curb instances which led to the violence the last time. On one hand the government has allowed the rally to take place, while the capital’s administration is in feverish negotiations with the PTI, urging them to change the venue, receiving guarantees, and planning contingences. The police force has been bolstered and their guns have been swapped for batons.

The government intends to use water cannons this time around to disperse the crowd. D-chowk is being encircled by containers to streamline the crowd, while passage to the red zone will be blocked. On the other hand, it seems that the government is cognizant of the fact that a similar ‘peaceful’ protest turned violent a few months ago. With Imran Khan touring the country and drawing massive crowds each time, the estimated number of the expected protesters is quite high. Reports are emerging of the Punjab government attempting to curb this flow by blocking points of entry into Islamabad, and planning to pre-emptively arrest party workers; a move that is surely to lead to clashes. The PTI on its part has little idea what Imran’s “final war” means; is it just a show of force or is it a ‘war’ in the literal sense?

The Parliament, so principled in its own survival, failed to utilize an assembly session on Wednesday to take a principled stance on the issue of protests. It could have acted pro-actively to reaffirm the right to protest, while providing legitimacy to the government’s actions. With Qadri’s zealots missing and the government singing the same foreign policy tunes as the military; round two might be a novel experience.