ISLAMABAD: WE are on the brink of a new Pakistan. Imran Khan’s wish — a set of wishes including one where he asked for a government without difficult allies — has come true.

Amid protestations in a shocked Lahore by the Pakistan Muslim League-N, the signs are that we are going to have the same Pakistan running through from Chitral to Sadiqabad. This is quite a remarkable capture given how fractured the Punjab-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa stretch has appeared politically over the last few years.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is sweeping through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Awami National Party resurgence has failed to materialise. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal challenge spearheaded by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F with help of the Jamaat-i-Islami has been rudely dismissed. The experts’ pet phrase that “the PTI is everywhere in the northwestern province” takes on new meanings after the results of the election on Wednesday. It is a little sad for the ANP followers. The election outcome is like rubbing salt in the wounds that the party has suffered at the hands of terrorists. But this is how it is in the cruel world of politics.

You win some and then you fall on bad days, sometimes for long periods of time. Just as there are election results that you accept gleefully and vote counts you are appalled by.

As the whispers, sometimes followed by hideous, vindictive chuckles, go in the all-important Lahore, it is now the PML-N’s turn to go into the protest mode. Marriyum Aurangzeb has just spoken by the side of a Musaddiq Malik who was for once not smiling a naughty smile. These PML-N spokespeople are aghast and want the media to report ‘large-scale’ rigging in an election that has reduced the Sharif domain drastically to parts of Lahore and areas in some adjoining districts, with occasional long-distance occupation.

According to early results, the PML-N was badly curtailed in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, was losing to PTI and allies, the PML-Q, in Gujrat, lagging behind in Faisalabad and Multan as well as some other southern Punjab districts — setbacks that were too severe to allow the party to celebrate sporadic good showings by some of its senior leaders in areas such as Sialkot and likely success in Gujranwala. The overall impression was that of a party which was faced with its toughest hour and which was on the verge of collapse.

Some magical opening where the PML-N could lay a claim to forming a government in Punjab could still salvage it for the Sharif camp? If some innocent souls were nursing this desire among the ‘N’ cadres, the dream was soon tempered by the voices of protests that emerged from within the ranks. This betrayed a kind of despondency that could well have been the result of a dire threat to the PML-N’s hold on Punjab.

Just as it was tough for PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif to strike a balance between Mian Nawaz Sharif’s combative narrative and his own desire to work with the establishment, it is perhaps time for SS to give in to the urge of questioning the results of the election with as much intensity as he can pack in it.

Shahbaz Sahib will most definitely need to come out of his conservative shell to deal with this latest mountain that he has been confronted with. His first formula, that was to lead him to some kind of rapprochement with you know who has failed totally. He is tasked with taking the party out of jail.

In a role-swap with the PML-N, prime minister Imran Khan appears to be all set to emerge as the leader with enough resources at his disposal to form a government without ‘unwanted’ allies. He must start with a self- assurance that those who are disputing the results now do not have the stamina or the critical backing that had enabled him to sustain a protest campaign — which had its origins in PTI’s grievances against poll rigging — for five long years. But as the chief executive of the country he will have to do better than blaming it all on an international conspiracy. He will have to be mindful of the international interest in Pakistan.

Some estimates say that Imran will win more than 100 national seats. Even if the PTI secures 90-odd seats his wish will be fulfilled and he would not require the crutches that some others might have been quite keen to offer him in his attempt to lead this country as its chief executive. He can well do with the support of the ‘azad’ MNAs even though for longevity’s sake he may be advised to cultivate good relations with smaller groups among the nationalists and Islamists that may yet sneak into the parliament.

This PTI success marks a new era. Imran’s struggle was avowedly to end the domination of not just one party but he sought to correct a whole system that had been exploited. The main culprits in his book were the Pakistan Peoples Party and the PML-N. In some of his recent remarks he made it quite clear that he was allergic to the idea of having to enter into an alliance with the PPP of Asif Zardari, who to the PTI cadres is epitome of all that is bad in the country.

The PPP does appear to have retained its presence in Sindh, and it could improve its overall national numbers by the time last results come in. As theories go, a result for the PTI where it will not have to rope in the PPP to make a coalition would be a godsend for Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. The young PPP leader has just won his first positive reviews — most definitely these are the first positive thoughts his presence has generated in Punjab.

He would do well to stay away from any offers of joining a coalition. He must concentrate on finding a new identity for his party beyond its present position as a regional party which makes occasional guest appearances in the rest of the country. He can try making a fresh start in southern Punjab and move upwards.

The PPP will next have to decide what kind of role it wants to play in the emerging alliance against alleged rigging in this general election. The PML-N is not the only party that cries foul of the results. There are others who dispute the numbers and their agitation is likely to get louder in coming days. The PPP must decide whether it will continue to court the establishment in this path-defining moment.

(Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2018)