During the speech of Allama Qadri, demanding the dissolution of the assemblies, the Supreme Court issued orders for the National Accountability Bureau (Nab) to arrest all charged with corruption in the Rental Power Project case, which included the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. As soon as the news from the Supreme Court broke, the Karachi stock exchange registered a major dip. Only a day earlier, on Monday, the government faced a serious crisis that ended with the imposition of Governor’s Rule in Balochistan. The government was already in the thick of Dr Qadri’s challenge when the news of the order for the arrest of Mr Ashraf broke out. The Nab has also been asked to arrest fifteen others, including five key former officials – Minister for Water and Power Shaukat Tarin, Finance Secretary Salman Siddique, two Sectaries, Ismail Qureshi and Shahid Rafi, of the same Ministry, and Pepco Chairman Basharat Cheema – accused of involvement in corruption in the same case.

The arrest order’s timing has raised certain crucial questions about the likelihood of the democratic setup surviving as it approaches the end of its term. Technically, though, Mr Ashraf can remain Prime Minister even while in jail, up until he is actually found guilty. Pressure may rise on him to tender his resignation on moral grounds. But the critical situation existing today does not leave many options with the ruling setup to avail. For example, it could replace Mr Ashraf with another sitting MP, but Qadri’s call for dissolution of the political setup, lock, stock and barrel, would continue to remain a nagging issue needing a quick solution, especially now that the timing of the Supreme Court order has rewarded Mr Qadri with the partial credit of having his demands fulfilled. Now emboldened, even dissolution of the Parliament, in case that option is exercised, would not meet part all of his demands; it is doubtful whether even that extreme measure would prompt him to relieve the pressure; it seems more likely that he would feel encouraged to insist on the acceptance of the totality of his demands. The fear of the army taking things in hand if the situation did not defuse was also palpable, and the aim of completing a normal transition seemed dangerously out of reach for some time. The army, however, has remained in its constitutional role during the past five years. Keeping in mind the external as well as the militancy threat it is up against, there is a slim chance it would commit that folly. Besides, the army would not take the risk in the face of the strong commitment to democracy of the judiciary, the media and, indeed, the public at large. In any case, it would be disastrous for the country to bear another stint of military dictatorship.

Under the present circumstances, the only way out of the logjam seems to be for all the political parties to put their heads together and present a solution that eases the situation.