By Mehr F Husain
21 August 2014
There were the three wise men, but in Pakistan, things always manifest themselves differently.
Here we have two men – Imran Khan and Tahir-Ul Qadri. One man has a religiously devoted following, the other, a devoted religious following. One elected, one unelected. One speaks about freedom, the other about revolution.
Both are anti-government and speak on behalf of a suffering nation. And both tug at the nation's heartstrings – a cricket hero and a religious scholar. Together, they form a two headed monster that seems more dangerous as a political opponent than the military.
The atmosphere is tense with questions.
Will Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign? Will the military intervene? Will there even be another government?
The real questions, of course, remain unasked because chances are they will remain unanswered.
What's happening with the war in Waziristan? A while back, wasn't terrorism engulfing the country to the point of complete annihilation?
The military is taking care of that and will be remembered as heroes.
The political arena, however, isn't exactly producing any heroes.
The PML N is in shutdown mode, almost like the proverbial pigeon who, upon sensing danger, shuts its eyes, hoping everything will be just fine.
The PPP took a neutral stand in Parliament when leader of the opposition Qaim Ali Shah asked the Prime Minister to realise the country's problems and Imran Khan to realise the problems he was creating.
Yet, one question remains – who has the most to lose?
While Qadri conducted an open referendum of sorts when he asked his supporters what they wanted to do, in Khan's case it's come down to holding dialogue with the government to resolve the big democratic issue of alleged rigging.
Imran Khan is giving it his all. The passion cannot be ignored, the anger is valid and the desperation is palpable. But there is something missing.
The PTI drew its support by constructing its campaign around drone attacks and anti-US sentiment – both legitimate causes for a hopeful political party but not the two main issues that need immediate attention, like the economy and terrorism.
Consequently, PTI won most of its seats in the province that was affected the most by drones, and suffered the consequences of the war on terror.
Still there were bigger problems to address and that included questioning the electoral result and that's where the PTI support across the other provinces would come in handy.
But the PTI may have overestimated its support base.
The turnout is in thousands and not in millions, as Imran Khan would have wanted, in order to put the necessary pressure on the government.
Right now, despite the continuous turnout every day, there was no mistaking how people balked when Imran Khan asked for civil disobedience.
Social media, including PTI supporters, buzzed about how Khan had lost the plot and how this spelled the end of the PTI.
Looking at the PTI fever that had gripped the urban youth and the turnout now, it is becoming apparent that those who supported Imran Khan were happy to see a man talk the talk but when it came to walking the walk with him, rigging or no rigging, people wanted something else.
They wanted solutions, the kind the PML N was talking about.
But more than a year on and no results, people want to hold the government responsible and what better way than to start with the elections?
By asking the people to give up electricity and telephone lines – both necessary for a working democracy and economy – Khan is asking the people to make sacrifices.
Are the people willing? They are. Will something come out of it? It must, for the country's democratic future and Imran Khan's sake too.
If he can pull something off, he'll be the much longed for hero. If not, the people may just turn to the military for a better future.
Qadri, on the other hand, can still salvage something. If political aspirations fizzle out or if the revolution which he campaigns for does not materialise, his role as a religious figure will remain and so will his Mureeds.
Sprinkling his revolutionary march with religious talk has brought out sanctity in the eyes of the people that a local band singing Quawwalis at a PTI freedom march did not.
But both have something legitimate to say and must be listened to.
Mehr F Husain is a columnist in Lahore