MAKE it stop. Someone make it stop. It has to stop, right? Right? It canít go on forever. Or can it? Please no. Help. Someone ó anyone ó help.

The will-they-wonít-they-though-you-really-know-they-wonít-but-desperately-wish-they-would, Tweedledum-and-Tweedledee routine that has become the PML-N and PTI is enough to drive anyone loopy.

You can see the solution as clear as day: give them their damn investigation; get electoral reforms done; LET EVERYONE GET ON WITH THEIR LIVES. But also clear as day, you can see why that wonít happen.

When Imran climbs down, the N-League moves in for the kill, triggering a re-reaction from Imran that pushes the N-League into defensive mode, causing the PTI to stick out its chest and strut around until diminishing returns set in and the whole cycle starts all over again. Itís enough to make even the soulless weep.

Last week, Imran seemed foolish. He couldnít even get his Plan C dates in order. This week, the PML-N reminded everyone that it has a dark, ugly side. Faisalabad happened. Then the Karachi contrast, with an assist by the PPP and the MQM, made the PML-N look even smaller and uglier.

So what about those talks scheduled to restart today? Even if the PML-N were inclined to do the right ó hell, necessary ó thing and get a judicial inquiry going into electoral malfeasance, the problem is an old one: fear.

When Imran climbs down, the N-League moves in for the kill, triggering a re-reaction from Imran.
To put it bluntly, the leadership believes that a special inquiry will be amenable to manipulation by the powers-that-be. And if youíre the N-League, you donít really want to leave your fate in the hands of the powers-that-be.

Thereís two parts to this. Historically, the judicial process has not worked out too well for the PML-N. The best it got was a reversal of the dissolution of the first Nawaz government, but that too only on paper ó fresh elections were held soon enough.

Secondly, the third N-League government has already been handed more than a few surprises. On appointments. On Maryam. On Musharraf. Can it put everything on the line with a super commission empowered to look wherever, decide whatever? That may be a leap too far.

Thereís more. Even if the N-League overcomes its scepticism, green-lights a super commission and then the super commission clears May 2013, some electoral mischief will inevitably be unearthed. At that point, can Imran be trusted?

Heís done it before, accepting May 2013 before turning around and firing in all directions, including at the judiciary.

If youíre the PML-N and you believe Imranís goal is to be PM and that the powers-that-beís goal is to knock you out, would you believe Imran will back down for good even if the super commission clears May 2013?

And if you donít believe that, then why give him more ammunition, the dirt that will be dug up by a commission?

But there has to be a commission. Because Imran doesnít look like heís tiring. And while itís cold now, the end of January, when Punjab starts to shrug off winter, is just six weeks away.

So how will this end? There are two options left. Either someone will step in and knock heads together or the PML-N leadership will realise that if it doesnít act first someone else may eventually step in, and so will opt for a deal on its own terms.

The plausible brokers are the usual suspects: internally, the predominant player, the boys; externally, the US, UK, Saudi, UAE, some other Arab country, Turkey maybe. Itís a depressing thought. But have a look at Imran and Nawaz. Pretty depressing, no?

If that were not enough, the behind-the-scenes chatter suggests a government that often comes close to doing the right thing, but always gets cold feet.

Take the reshuffle. Some ministers were to be axed, others were notified of their elevation, the bureaucrat-PM Fawad Hassan was off to DC, the word went out that it was done, the winners even held mini-celebrations ó and then nothing.

Or not quite nothing. There was a second meeting. A smaller one. And suddenly, just like that, the N-League reverted to type. Nawaz pulled a Nawaz and the bold decisions were put on hold.

Itís easy to guess what happened. He ó Nawaz ó canít do it. He canít sack the ones he needs to. Or he wonít sack them. Or they convinced him of their indispensability. But itís his decision. Itís his choice. And he chose to delay it.

And if he canít make one big decision, what does that say about his ability to make an even bigger one, giving the PTI a deal it can live with?

Switch to the other side. The PTI doesnít need a deal. It can live without a deal. It may even prefer not to get a deal. Because getting a deal would mean Nawaz stays on. And if Nawaz stays on, Imran canít be PM.

Plus, while Plan C has been no more effective than whatever the hell plans A and B were supposed to have been, Plan C has kept PTI and its crusade right at the centre of the national discourse. So the PTI is doing fine.

Itís the PML-N that needs something different. But if it canít or wonít do a deal with the PTI, what could that something different be?

Watch the Musharraf space. Concessions there ó not that Musharraf was the genesis of all of this ó could suggest the end is nigh. For the PTI.

But donít bet on it. Musharraf is personal. For Nawaz.

The writer is a member of staff.