LONG before Monday’s fracas in Faisalabad, it ought to have been clear to all and sundry that little good was likely to flow from Plan C of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), and the party chief’s earlier implication that there are a lot more letters of the alphabet associated with his intentions provides cause for despair.

Plan A, presumably, was to sweep last year’s elections, possibly along the lines of the regional triumph back in 1970 of the PPP. It didn’t happen, and most electoral observers were not surprised, let alone alarmed, by the popular verdict. It may have been short-sighted of the electorate to vote in a tried and tested alternative that had failed before, but it wasn’t exactly unexpected.

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No one in their right mind, with a knowledge of how the political game is played in Pakistan, could altogether rule out instances of rigging. But scale does matter. In the context of the 1977 elections, even Gen Ziaul Haq acknowledged that the PPP would have triumphed even if elements within it had not gone out of their way to guarantee a favourable verdict in particular constituencies.

There’s no reason to assume that the PTI is a preferable alternative.
Likewise, not many of the critics of the 2013 electoral exercise are willing to claim that the result would have been drastically different in the absence of malfeasance. It would nonetheless be good to know of instances where anomalies did occur, and to put into place measures aimed at deterring a recurrence.

Demanding the prime minister’s resignation was a remarkably dumb way of going about it, though. The PTI has since resiled from that demand, and although the prospect of negotiations with the ruling PML-N has been jeopardised by Monday’s unfortunate events, it would be sensible of the ruling party to accede to the clamour for a judicial inquiry. It ultimately may not do much good, but most likely wouldn’t do any harm.

This is not to suggest, though, that Imran will necessarily live up to his promise of accepting the consequences, even if they don’t conform to his imagination. Too many vows have been revised for that assumption to be taken for granted. In the wake of last year’s elections, which provided Imran with a platform in KP to demonstrate his mettle, his best option ought to have encompassed a campaign geared to the next elections.

It is arguably not unreasonable to assume, though, that the electoral exercise in 2018 will likely be tainted unless last year’s ghosts are put to rest. If they remain up in the air — boosted by the PPP’s allegations that it suffered more than the PTI from discrepancies in Punjab — then there can be little hope of a democratic continuation.

That aspect of the political process was bandied about in 2013, which was the first time that one civilian dispensation made way for another without a military-sponsored interlude. That was an intriguing landmark, and it could have been achieved in 1977 under comparable circumstances. It was not to be, however. The military intervention of that year has lately been bandied about as a cautionary tale, but it’s useful to remember that Ziaul Haq struck after the PPP and its adversaries had struck an agreement on an electoral re-run. By then the army had routinely been deployed against the agitators, with Z.A. Bhutto counting on military support to see him through the ordeal. It was not to be.

It is quite remarkable how every Tom, Dick and Harry — or Asif, Nawaz and Imran — has sought to dress himself in ZAB’s mantle, with Imran claiming allegiance to the roti, kapra aur makan (food, clothing and shelter) mantra, yet sprouting regressive tendencies that see him effectively condoning the Taliban, collaborating with indefensible elements and ultimately hoping to be catapulted into the top spot.

It isn’t difficult to empathise with those who suggest that as someone untested at the helm, Imran deserves a chance that would enable him to demonstrate his finest qualities as an administrator. It would be naive, though, to take him at his word in this — as in so many other — respect, not least because his colleagues and collaborators in this jihad, from PTI stalwarts to allies in various Jamaats, leave much to be desired.

As things stand, there is no obvious reason to assume that Imran’s PTI would be a vastly preferable alternative to the tried and tested, and in many ways appalling, PML-N or PPP. And the fact that all three are currently prone to defections is neither entirely surprising nor particularly deplorable.

The fact is that none of them has much to offer the nation. At the same time, the prospect of a military or strictly Islamist alternative strikes most reasonable Pakistanis as even more appalling than the unpleasant status quo. The future is unwritten, and quite possibly also untenable.