As the opposition parties seem determined to make the most out of the Panama scandal, the house of Sharifs feels the heat
There seems to be a clear road ahead once Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif crosses over the critical hurdle -- of picking the new chief of army staff in a few weeks time. His opponents have not been able to generate a movement against him. The public rallies led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, Awami Muslim League Chief Sheikh Rasheed and Pakistan Awami Tehreek kingpin Tahir-ul-Qadri did not get the kind of support they were hoping for.
Although the opposition parties seem determined to make the most out of the Panama scandal, there is confusion among their ranks. They have not been able to forge unity among their ranks; the PTI is yet to decide about the venue to put the right pressure on the Sharif family.
"Our destination is Raiwind. At the moment, we are still indecisive either to march or not to march. Consultative sessions with the opposition parties are on for achieving the noble cause," says Dr Arif Alvi of PTI. "But our objective is one -- accountability of those whose names featured in Panama papers."
The PTI has also taken up the issue at the Public Accounts Committee’s forum which has finally issued notices to top institutions -- Federal Board of Revenue, National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investigation Agency, Auditor General of Pakistan and State Bank of Pakistan. Syed Khursheed Shah of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), who is also the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, is chairing the meetings of PAC.
As the PTI struggles to achieve it all at the centre, the PPP is also struggling to regain its space in the Punjab as well as filling the political vacuum in Karachi after Muttahida Qaumi Movement disassociated itself from London-based leadership, Altaf Hussain in particular.
Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP says political temperature after Eid is more likely to rise rather than subside. "It’ll all happen due to the persistent and stubborn refusal of PM Sharif to offer himself for accountability over Panama leaks with some semblance of credibility.
"On the issue of accountability over Panama leaks the opposition is united. The tactics may have shades of variations but the strategic objective is the same."
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is facing tough challenges on many fronts, though its allies National Party, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl have stood by Premier Sharif. Experts say the foremost challenge for top leadership of PML-N is that a slight miscalculation in choosing the new military chief can result in a disaster like 1999 when Sharif’s hand-picked general Pervez Musharraf ultimately ended up throwing him out of power.
Some party insiders say that disconnect between the top leaders and the lower cadres of PML-N is something that can hurt Sharif in the run up to the next elections. Some party leaders were leaning towards the younger Sharifs after PM Nawaz Sharif expressed his anger on their harsh attitude towards the PPP and other allies in the near past.
Another challenge for Sharif is that despite the lukewarm response to the rallies on Panama Leaks, the issue has not died down completely. And this perhaps is the issue the opposition parties can exploit if they combine their force. Political observers term Panama still a hotcake as it is also likely to be taken up by the Supreme Court in response to the PTI leader Hamid Khan’s petition.
The next challenge for the PML-N in the 2018 general elections is unfulfilled promises like ending energy crisis. Political commentators say that a divergence is likely to develop within the opposition ranks only at a tactical level -- Imran Khan’s proposed siege of Raiwind, the private residence of PM Sharif. Only PAT of Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri supports this move while the PPP, Pakistan Muslim League-Q and Awami National Party (ANP) don’t. This could become a bad precedent and might come back to haunt the opposition.
"Panama papers issue is a godsend for the opposition to hound Nawaz Sharif and his government. It is unlikely the issue will be dropped from the news cycles any time soon considering the mileage it brings to aid agitation," says Adnan Rehmat, Islamabad-based political analyst.
"Several references on the subject have landed in the Supreme Court and despite there being questions whether these are serious enough or frivolous, it is likely the Panama issue will remain media-worthy until the elections, and not just after Eid," says Rehmat. "The issue helps all opposition parties, including PPP and ANP, rather than just PTI, to keep pressure on the PML-N in the countdown to the 2018 elections."
Regarding Khan’s proposed march to PM Sharif’s private residence, analysts see it as an effort by the non-democratic actors to create a crisis-like situation in the country at a time when military chief is about to get superannuation. They believe that these actors could create fancy theories of crime+corruption+terrorism but it remains a thin veil for power politics in the country.
"By announcing to march on Raiwind, Imran Khan aimed to force a crisis in which about-to-retire Gen Raheel Sharif will play a central role," observed senior journalist Talat Hussain in one his tweets. When Sheikh Rasheed and Faisal Vawda take the lead role in assaulting the government, there should be no surprise for guessing which way the wind is blowing, Hussain observed.
Before September 24 approaches, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had scheduled a trip to the United States on September 16 to address a United Nations General Assembly session. Though he is scheduled to return to Pakistan on September 24, his close aides say he could stop over in London for his medical checkup for a few days. But whatever Sharif plans, his aides say, he is ready to face it all.