The loud noise and smoke created from Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s 13-day sit-in has all but dissipated, with the JUI-F leaving Islamabad without anything to show for it. The party still has some cards left however, as ‘plan B’ entails blocking major roads and highways in a bid to pressurise the government. But what Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his party really want is shrouded in mystery; the demand for resignation of the Prime Minister is clearly only a first step in negotiation but what the stipulations will eventually be dressed down to is still uncertain.

And this is where the real confusion sets in; with both parties not deviating from their position so far, it almost seems as if Maulana Fazlur Rehman himself is not clear of what he really wants. Setting a demand that he knows the government will never give in to is essentially putting this protest in an impossible position.

The protests then, are nothing but a show of power, to remind the wheeler and dealers of the state that JUI-F can be relevant in the country’s political discourse and will need some sort of concessions if they are to end this fight against the government. Whether JUI-F manages to secure a boon for itself remains to be seen however, as the decision to call off the Azadi March in Islamabad will only put the party on the backfoot.

The protesters on the highways have been given a list of rules to follow, from not stopping ambulances and other emergency services from travelling to not forcibly closing down shops and places of business. It remains to be seen whether the protesters will follow this code of conduct but judging by the lack of violence in the Azadi March, it is likely that the Maulana’s supporters will listen follow his rules to the letter. However, given that the Azadi March itself fizzled out with no real political gains made, is the round of highway protests going to be any more fruitful?

The government has so far chosen to ignore the protest itself, with negotiations taking place through back channels. Those will obviously still remain open, but members of the government should remember that their public statements – which are still hostile to Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s protest – should match those they make in private through their negotiators. Otherwise this long-drawn-out battle between the two political parties will continue without any real end in sight.