Events in Islamabad this week can be described in many ways. Some have called it a total surrender of the elected government, others have said it was a show of pragmatism, or simply realpolitik. The pathetic performance of the politicians was apparent at several levels exposed by the dharna of the ultra-right religious forces at Faizabad. Unable to provide even a tiny shade of understanding, credible leadership or vision, the Shahid Khakan Abbasi-led government crashed like 10 pins in a bowling alley, triggering off some sort of a domino effect. It all started either innocently apparently by a woman minister who wanted to tweak some wordings in the law, or as part of a deeply thought out political trick to divert attention from the woes of the ousted Prime Minister and his shattered government, the end was a sheer disaster of monumental size. It is a fact that for months no one noticed as the reforms law meandered through parliamentary committees, ignored by the usually uninterested legislators, when rabble-rouser Sheikh Rashid of Rawalpindi saw its deadly potential to use it against the government. He pointed out the most provocative portions and threatened the treasury benches. As the Abbasi government is already in a crisis mode, this new issue pushed the panic button, especially when the Sharif family infighting also played its part and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif picked up the issue to openly demand reversal of the changes and sacking of those responsible. From then onwards, the religious lobby took up the matter and quickly drove to Faizabad with a few hundred men, waiting for the crowds to build and pitched itself against Islamabad at a crossroad of critical highways, disrupting life for citizens. How is it possible that a government invokes Article 245 of the Constitution calling the army, and the chief says no? For 20 days, the protestors enjoyed the limelight and the angry sections of the media hyped up the failure of the authorities to handle it, coming up with a convincing alternative narrative. An under-pressure interior minister with no coordination with other state security agencies and institutions first boasted a lot and then launched a half-cooked operation. Many details are still hidden, but it is a fact that the demonstrators had a better battle plan, while the authorities had none. Then came the big blunder of calling the troops. That was when the total surrender accusations became credible. Only a week back, the army had sent a clear message when the ISPR’s Major General Asif Ghafoor boldly stated that if the army were asked to intervene in the dharna, the COAS would ‘make his proposals’ to the government at the right forum and at the right time. Within days that time arrived and the army was asked to intervene by a panicked administration that appeared to be playing political tricks by sucking in the troops for a job it could not, or did not, want to accomplish successfully. How is it possible that a government invokes Article 245 of the Constitution calling the army, and the chief says no? Apparently, the chief or the GHQ was not consulted or taken into confidence. But when things went out of hands, generals intervened using their clout and brought the two sides to an accord, but on the terms of the demonstrators. Islamabad became quiet but the other factions of the Islamists in Lahore and elsewhere did not accept the terms and the fire keeps on burning. What is more interesting is that the judiciary also jumped into the fray and the Islamabad High Court chief justice issued orders asking for an operation against the dharna but ‘without using firearms’. That was the point the army picked to say no because after several persons had been killed and hundreds injured and without its weapons how could the army control the situation. A more punching message was given when the COAS said the people loved the army and it could not open fire on them. In the larger picture, the army received a lot of applause for quickly, and without using force, defusing the situation, which the government had failed to do in three weeks. The civilians had to lose face and feel the heat and embarrassment of capitulating publicly. Yet no one seems to be bothered that the government in Islamabad has been left with little credibility to maintain peace and handle issues politically, diplomatically and with wisdom and vision. This apathy, or pathetic inability, has unleashed a plethora of theories, speculations and rumours about the Parliament folding up quickly and being replaced by an interim set up which could even stretch to many months, much beyond the prescribed 90-day period. The failure of the PML-N government and apparent split in its ranks has also given a serious blow to efforts of Mr Nawaz Sharif to fight his legal battles and keep up pressure on the courts and the establishment that he was still relevant as a popular force. The instant flare up of the dharna throughout the country, after the botched operation, and the rage, which was seen on the streets against the ruling party, must have sent shivers down many spines in Jati Umra. No PML-N leader had the courage to go out and face the mobs and one or two who tried had to run for their lives. All public outings of Nawaz Sharif were canceled. That will hurt Nawaz Sharif’s narrative that he holds the voters’ mandate, which should be respected. Where did his votes and supporters go has yet to be explained? The courts and other accountability institutions will now find strength in going after the Sharif family with confidence, vigour, and speed. Pragmatism shown by weak leaders at the wrong time means surrender and that is what has hit the Sharif governments in Islamabad and Lahore. How long they survive is an open question. The writer is a senior journalist Published in Daily Times, December 1st 2017.