Bilawal Bhutto has sprung into action. He kicked off with a hard-hitting speech in the National Assembly, blasting the Miltablishment for nurturing non-state actors who have become Frankensteins, endangering internal stability by attracting severe international censure. Then he called on Nawaz Sharif in prison and supported the demand for his freedom on medical grounds, prompting Maryam Nawaz to tweet a “thank you”. But he also chipped in with the interesting observation that the time had come to revive the cooperative spirit of the Charter of Democracy, signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in 2006 when they were both in exile. Now he has come out all guns blazing. Bilawal has “warned” the “powers-that-be” that if the hounding of the PPP, in particular Asif Zardari/Feryal Talpur, by NAB and FIA doesn’t stop, the PPP will launch a protest movement. Is this a credible threat? Are we about to see a united front of the PPP, PMLN, and their allies, like the JUI’s Maulana Fazal ur Rahman, that will spell the end of the “unholy alliance-regime” of the PTI-Miltablishment?

It is perfectly understandable why the Bhutto-Zardaris are up in arms.

The Miltablishment had given them a free hand to contest and win the 2018 provincial elections in Sindh, and go on to make the provincial government, even as it had pulled out all the stops to make sure that the PMLN lost in Punjab and therefore in Pakistan. By way of cementing the “deal”, Mr Zardari had made an “advance payment” before the elections by manipulating a revolt in the Balochistan Assembly to overthrow the PMLN government and then making “balance payment” by ensuring the election of the Miltablishment candidate from Balochistan as Speaker of the Senate. After the elections, he resolutely refused to make a power-sharing alliance with the PMLN, thereby enabling the PTI to woo a crucial clutch of winning Independents and form governments in Islamabad and Lahore.

But the “deal” with the Miltablishment is now unravelling because Imran Khan is no longer “buying in”. Indeed, he is pressing NAB, FIA and other state agencies to go after both the leaders of the PMLN and PPP as part of his post-election strategy to strengthen himself and decimate the two mainstream parties, both as insurance for political survival and as a guarantee for winning the next elections. Indeed, it is an article of political faith for him that the focus of the people and media should remain concentrated on the “corruption” of the two parties and their leaders to divert attention from his party’s infirmity and his government’s incompetence.

The swords of NAB and FIA are now within striking distance of Mr Zardari, Feryal Talpur et al. The JITs are done collecting damning evidence of corruption and money laundering. The Supreme Court is itching to bang the hammer and wreck the “deal”. The PPP is in desperate straits. It must decide immediately whether to change course, and aggressively join hands with the PMLN against both the PTI and Miltablishment, or to hang on to the coattails of the Miltablishment in the hope that it can halt Imran Khan’s push against the PPP. The credibility of an alliance with the PMLN aimed at overthrowing the PTI would be called into question if it follows rather than precedes any hard action against Mr Zardari and Co. Imran Khan and his front-line strikers like Asad Umar and Fawad Chaudhry have already begun to issue dire warnings that, under the garb of protecting free speech and democratic rights, “the corrupt Sharifs and Zardaris are joining hands to protect their ill-gotten gains”.

It is probably true that if the PPP and PMLN were to cement an aggressive anti-Miltablishment and anti-PTI alliance, they would create serious problems for the ruling junta. But it is truer still that the opposite side would not sit idly by and allow them to get away with their plans. At the very least a lot of top PPP/PMLN people would face arrest and those already in detention could not hope for any relief from the courts or the Miltablishment, whether on legal or humanitarian grounds. Since both parties are already fatigued and demoralized, the prospects of launching a successful joint movement without their top leaders in attendance are dim. It is also true that the PMLN is riven by internal disagreements between a section lead by Hamza and Shahbaz Sharif that advocates an unabashed surrender to the Miltablishment, and another led by Maryam and Nawaz Sharif that refuses to throw in the towel. On the other hand, the Miltablishment might prefer to nip Bilawal’s threat in the bud by managing to exile Nawaz Sharif on medical grounds, and thereby buy his silence, and diminish Imran Khan’s ire by putting Mr Zardari in prison.

Whose stones will kill which birds should be clear soon enough.