More than three months after the launch of his campaign to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from power on August 14, Imran Khan now apparently seems to have landed himself into a blind alley. All the odds appear to be stacked against him.

His Islamabad sit-in has fizzled out. The massive crowds which Imran Khan hoped and promised to bring to Islamabad at the start of his ‘Freedom March’ never materialised. His main ally Allama Tahirul Qadri has taken a ‘short break’ from his ‘revolutionary’ struggle, casting a serious blow to the ‘Go Nawaz Go’ campaign. The series of public rallies the PTI has been holding in various cities – though huge and emotionally charged – are doing little to intensify pressure on the Sharif government. And the elusive umpire is now no longer even part of the mainstream political discourse.

The Sharif government after showing obvious signs of nervousness during the initial weeks of the ‘revolutionary and freedom’ marches and sit-ins by the PTI and the PAT appears to be breathing easy and hoping that in the long run it will be able to wear out its political opponents. And it has reasons to believe this.

Firstly, Imran Khan is a solo flyer. Barring a working alliance with the PAT and support by Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed’s small Awami Muslim League, he has failed to form a broad-based anti-Sharif alliance – a prerequisite in South Asian politics if any opposition is serious about challenging a well-entrenched government.

The parliamentary opposition, comprising the PPP and most of the traditional religious, nationalists, ethnic and political forces has put all its weight behind Sharif – or what they call saving democracy. The PTI has even been unable to take the Jamaat-e-Islami, its ally in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly, on board its venture to dislodge the Sharif government.

In fact, the PTI is being targeted and attacked by most opposition parties – from the PPP to the ANP and JUI-F to Baloch and Pakhtun nationalists – as much as it remains under fire by the ruling party. The friction between the PTI and the rest of the opposition is understandable given Imran Khan’s attempt to create political space for his party by eroding the vote bank of these traditional forces. On the one hand, he is trying to woo the right-wing vote bank by his strong anti-US rhetoric and sympathetic stance towards the local Taliban militants, while on the other he is attracting the liberal as well as onetime apolitical element which is fed up with the old guards due to their alleged corruption, misrule and bad governance.

But despite his popularity among many Pakistanis, Imran Khan stands politically isolated. Will he be able to broaden his anti-government campaign in the days to come by bringing other disgruntled political forces such as the MQM into its fold? The bigger question perhaps is: does he even intend to take this course?

Secondly, Imran Khan’s hopes that he will be able to cash in on Sharif’s estranged ties with the mighty military establishment also did not happen. His campaign only helped expose Sharif’s vulnerability and forced him to backtrack on key security and foreign affairs matters, but shrinking of this space for the civilian government went more in the favour of the military establishment than benefiting the PTI.

With these two odds firmly against him, realistically speaking Imran Khan holds little chances to take his anti-government movement to the next level – at least for now. He needs a new element to bolster his flagging drive, which appears nowhere in sight.

Yet, call it Imran Khan’s determination or rigidity, his unyielding optimism or grand disillusion, that he is tenaciously trying to bowl hard and fast on a political pitch, which after showing some promise and unpredictably in the initial overs has apparently become dead and slow. The coveted wicket of Nawaz Sharif stays intact despite the initial ferocious spell by the PTI chairman. It appears that the World Cup winning captain has to settle for a long haul without any guarantees that at the end of it all he will be able to lift the dream cup of his political career.

In a way, at the Nov 9 rally in Rahim Yar Khan, Imran Khan climbed down a notch or two from his initial demand of Sharif’s resignation when he asked the government to form a judicial commission by November 30 to investigate the alleged rigging charges in the last elections. Imran Khan wants the commission to also comprise ISI and Military Intelligence officials and furnish its report within four to six weeks of its formation. Until then, according to Imran Khan, Sharif can stay in the office but should resign if the charges of electoral rigging prove correct.

Imran Khan has vowed to not let the government function after Nov 30 if it fails to meet his latest demand, but the idea of including military personnel in the commission has already been shot down by Sharif’s team.

This means that Imran Khan will try to fulfil his promise of disrupting government functioning through protests, but does his PTI have the organisational capacity and ability that was possessed by the Jamaat-e-Islami, the MQM and the PPP of the olden days to launch street agitations and strikes as advocated by Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed. The PTI cadre has yet to prove its mettle in this regard.

However, Imran Khan’s political isolation, his unfulfilled expectations from the shadowy umpire and his party’s organisational weakness do not mean that the tough days for the Sharif government are over.

In any political tussle, conflict and war a lot depends on the tenaciousness of the key protagonists. In his play, Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw summed it up so well in these words; “You should always attack; and if you only hold on long enough the enemy will stop first....”

Okay, the imagery of Joan of Arc does not gel with Imran Khan – the poor girl was burned on the stake for her conviction and simplicity. But calculated aggression and tenaciousness sometimes do work.

The political alignments can change anytime, the opponent can commit blunders (Sharif and his team have a great inherent capacity to open unnecessary fronts and take on useless fights) and help sometimes can come from the unknown quarters. Imran Khan seems to have the political stamina for a protracted fight, which is likely to keep the government on tenterhooks.

A prolonged tussle is ominous for the country and its economic and political fallout will hurt the government more than the opposition. While Imran Khan can afford to keep the pot on the boil, the government must show urgency to resolve the crisis in its own enlightened self interest. So far the government appears to be in no mood to avail the opportunity, which the backing of parliamentary parties has provided to it, and move quickly for a political settlement.

The government can take the initiative by requesting at least for the formation of a judicial commission to probe the alleged charges of rigging in the 2013 elections, and acting swiftly for electoral reforms along with reopening of talks with the PTI and PAT. Unfortunately, it has been dragging its feet even on these issues.

As a result, the impasse is intensifying the country’s political instability and adding to the prevailing sense of uncertainty. The brewing crisis has all the potential to spin out of control if it is not managed now – before the start of the next round.

Imran Khan may look less threatening today than he was on August 14. Many of his demands may appear flawed or even unprincipled, but he has the hunger to make his mark and disrupt the apple cart. Sharif can afford to disregard him at his own peril.

For in practical politics, nothing succeeds like success. There is nothing moral or immoral – it is an amoral game. The ultimate goal justifies the means. Who should know this better than Nawaz Sharif, our most experienced third-time elected prime minister?