Now that PAT chief Tahirul Qadri has called his sit-in off, the government, like the man who hears the lodger in the room above him drop one shoe and then the other before going to bed, has heard one shoe drop: he waits now, for the other shoe, i.e., PTI chief Imran Khan to make a similar announcement. He is adamant at the moment, but the government is hopeful. With PAT gone, the PTI may find itself swept away by state force. Before that inglorious end, it would be best if the PTI chief himself ends the sit-in.

However, the conditions of the sit-in so far show that the strategists of both sit-ins like to take matters to their ultimate conclusion. This reminds one of Imran Khan in his cricketing days, when he preferred a result to a draw. But did he prefer a loss? That is the distinction of cricket; that matches end in draws, though one-day cricket leads to results, even in matches shortened by rain, easily the main cause of drawn cricket matches. Rain should be a factor in Imran’s calculations, because they will bring cold weather, which is particularly taxing in Islamabad. No leader should put his followers to the test of a winter night under the open sky in Islamabad. Imran, it should be noticed, will suffer no such risk, spending his nights at worst in his container. While not luxurious, it will at least be kept warm and dry.

However, if the assumptions about agency involvement are correct, despite the denials, the sit-in will not end before desired ends are achieved. That assumption leads to the conclusion that those ends have not been achieved. That end, a military takeover, may well not be happening. The overt end, the resignations of the Sharif brothers, is probably not going to happen either. Imran has held rallies in other cities, a ploy in which he was followed by Dr Qadri, but he seems to feel that he can still use those rallies to boost the sit-in.

This may well ignore the logistical issue. Apart from the increase in illness with winter, PTI supporters at the sit-in need to be fed. The norm for protests is that they are an event lasting for a given period of time, not an event contingent upon an action, in this case the resignations. If there is an action, its occurrence will be guaranteed in advance. Otherwise, as the PAT rally showed, and as the PTI rally is on the verge of showing, one runs out of financial support. The PTI sit-in is not just suffering because of various logistical or weather problems, but because PAT withdrawal has given the government a sense of victory. Also, as Imran might have seen, the absence of government crowing has helped Dr Qadri retain most of the gains he has obtained from the sit-in.

Resignations have not been obtained. However, the rationale for those resignations has been presented repeatedly for the last two and a half months on national television. One result has been that the sit-ins have brought the elections closer. If that is the case, then the rallies in other cities become campaign events. Even if general elections are not held, local body elections are due to be held. Both the sit-in parties have announced their intention of participating, and the PTI is already taking some of the flak for not conducting them, being in power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. It is trying to deflect that flak by saying that the Election Commission of Pakistan is to blame, but that merely seems more of what appears to have become a PTI habit, of loudly blaming all others, who are also accused of corruption, for its faults. If the PTI does not have its own way, it is because of the corruption in the system. The Parliament is unacceptable because it has not yielded a PTI majority, which explains why Imran is so willing to resign. It seems as though, for him, Parliament is not so much an institution, as a means to executive office.

However, the local body election results seem pre-ordained. The ruling party will win, as usual, which will yield different results in the three provinces that are going to the polls. While accepting the results in KP, the PTI will claim again that the elections were rigged in the other two provinces. The PTI does not face just the PML(N) in the Punjab, but also the PAT. A complicating factor is that the polls are not being held in accordance with the wishes of the provincial governments, but the Supreme Court. Even the PTI, which used them as a campaign plank, has not held them in KP, and in fact the only province to have held them, Balochistan, is ruled by a government of which the ruling PML(N) is a coalition partner. Even here the local councils have not been notified, and thus have not begun any work.

However, the PTI, or rather Imran Khan, does not have an exit strategy. The Sharifs, who fought an election only last year, have not come to office merely to fight another election. It should not be forgotten that Mian Nawaz has come to office after 14 years out of power, including both jail and exile. Now that the sit-ins seem to have run out of steam, there is no incentive to hold elections. There is also the danger that Imran will not accept any result except a PTI victory, his argument being that this election is rigged.

The local body elections have lost importance because of the sit-ins, even though one party has replaced them with rallies. The other party, the PTI, is trying to carry on with both activities, with the party chief making regular forays away from his party’s sit-in to address rallies elsewhere. However, the government hopes that the two activities cannot go together, and that the PTI will end the sit-in so it can concentrate on the local body elections.

It should be noted that these will be the PTI’s first local body elections, as Imran Khan did not contest the local body polls in the Musharraf era. The PML(N) is used to local body polls, having used them initially as a sort of ancillary party organization. With the PTI now looking to take part, it is likely that it will see another tide of ‘electables’ enter its fold, as they seek to find a platform to fight against other electables who have won official patronage. PAT and PTI both face the same challenge of translating the gains of the sit-in into votes in an election devoted to local issues.

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