With that dramatic twist in the ongoing political thriller, when a group of PTI dissidents surfaced in Islamabad’s Sindh House on Thursday evening, the obvious conclusion would be that the oracle has spoken. The opposition has demonstrated its numbers in its push for a vote of no-confidence against Imran Khan’s government.

But that potentially decisive revelation has raised more clouds of dust in the arena because Imran Khan is determined to pursue a number of drastic options to prevail over his adversaries, a task that has remained his obsession since his assumption of power in 2018. Now, of course, the endgame is here – and Imran Khan is making his desperate moves that may have implications far beyond the no-confidence vote.

Apprehensions that the PTI leadership, confronted with the prospect of losing the vote of no-confidence, would lapse into some reckless expedients to stop the dissidents from voting against the party are becoming a reality. In an apparently planned operation, PTI workers responded to Thursday’s shock with noisy protests in front of the houses of the dissidents in different cities on Friday.

In Islamabad, a protest was organised at the Sindh House, where the PTI defectors had made their appearance a day earlier. Plastic ‘lotas’ in different colours became, in a sense, the banners carried by the ‘tigers’. At one point, the protesters in Islamabad attacked Sindh House, breaking the gate to enter the premises.

This dangerous escalation, with its use of violence, did not appear to be unintended because the mob of PTI workers was led by two members of the National Assembly. Thankfully, the situation was soon brought under control and a number of protesters, including the two legislators, were taken into custody. But they were soon released, though an FIR was later registered.

One would not be surprised by this hint of fascism in the thinking and action of the PTI. After all, Imran Khan is leading from the front in this respect too. He is a seasoned rabble rouser. But for him to adopt a confrontational stance in public gatherings is intriguing because he is himself the prime minister of the country – at least for now.

This, then, is a very crucial phase in our history that has already gone through extremely tough times. On Friday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid asserted that the next two weeks, until April 4, could be very eventful. Ah, remember April 4, the date on which Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed in 1979? Besides, March has frequently been a month of political agitation and upheavals. ‘Ides of March’ is a handy title for columns during this month.

PTI’s real show of strength is planned for next Sunday at the D-chowk in Islamabad, when the party leaders have vowed to stage the biggest rally in Pakistan’s history with one million people brought from across the country. The idea is to stay there when the dissidents come to vote on March 28, the date on which the crucial National Assembly session is expected.

However, the opposition’s long march is scheduled to arrive in Islamabad before the PTI rally. Hence, the threat of violent confrontation is real. Tensions are rising to a boiling point. Both sides have highly charged workers spread in all major cities. Ours is already a brutalised society infected with extremism and intolerance. ‘Expect the unexpected’ is the message of the moment.

The overall situation seems very Byzantine. It is very complicated and involves different power structures. One indication of this is the hide-and-seek that the coalition partners of the PTI are playing. With their small number of seats, they have the power to make the difference, provided that the opposition are not able to win the required number of rebels from the PTI ranks.

Even when this has apparently happened, the allies are making the most of their momentary advantage. They tilt now on this and then on the other side. Included in the cast of characters are the Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan groups, making news by simply getting together for dinner.

There is a hint of chaos in how the situation is developing. In the heat of the contest for power, we are ignoring all other problems that are surging like storms around us. We are totally distracted by this play in which Imran Khan is starred as a hero, though he is increasingly looking like a tragic hero. One wonders if he has the entire script and knows what the ending is going to be like.

Some of his performances stand out for their passion and rage. I would just mention the speech he made on Friday last week at Dir Scouts Ground. Just the lead headline of Dawn the next day would give you some idea of what it was: “Profanity-laden outburst by PM adds to the quagmire.

It was in this speech that Imran Khan said that human beings take sides to be with the good or evil. Only a ‘janwar’ can be neutral. I need not go into the insinuations that this statement would invite. Forget also the fact that this came from someone who prided himself for introducing the idea of neutral umpires in international cricket.

Ah, there is also this reference to an umpire who may or may not raise his finger. And if this was a U-turn, no problem. He has surely scored more U-turns than any other political player, anywhere. This is something that can carefully be documented.

Someone in social media has said that Imran Khan is our ‘sasta Trump’. Even in a serious vein, you may detect similarities between the two leaders. This resemblance extends to their supporters. The pity is that Trump is American and Imran Khan is fervently playing the populist anti-American card.

Incidentally, Imran Khan has promised that he would be more dangerous for his adversaries if and when he is not in power. But can he improve upon the performance he is delivering while still in power?

The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

This content was originally published here.

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