PPP, PTI at cross-purposes over Panama commission

Source:  Dawn.com Published in Politics on Monday, June 6, 2016

ISLAMABAD: While the government is committed to expanding the scope of the proposed Panama Papers commission, the PPP and PTI — mainstays of the nine-party opposition bloc — have their own axes to grind in pushing for investigations into the leaks, political insiders and analysts say.

Even at his rally in Kohat on Sunday, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan repeated his threat to take to the streets if the government resisted a probe into Panamagate, believing that this is the party’s last chance to overtake the ruling PML-N before the next general elections.

“From the beginning, Imran Khan has been insistent that the Sharifs have stashed their ill-gotten wealth in foreign countries. The Panama Papers were a godsend that vindicated his oft-repeated claim and we cannot afford to let such an opportunity slip through our fingers,” a close aide to Mr Khan told Dawn.

Ever since the Panama Papers scandal broke, the PTI chief has, more than once, impressed the significance of this revelation upon its leadership and is determined to take it to its logical conclusion.

The PPP, meanwhile, has different considerations in the wake of the Panama Papers leaks. Background discussions with senior party leaders revealed that, for one, the leadership was in no mood to go soft on the government and would continue to hit out at the PML-N in general, particularly using the issue of offshore companies to further tarnish the Sharif family’s reputation.

Minister claims govt is ‘in contact’ with smaller opposition parties

“Frankly speaking, the longer these talks between the government and opposition over terms of reference drag on, the better it is for our party’s moves to revive its fortunes in Punjab, where we only won a couple of National Assembly seats in the last elections,” said a former federal minister who is part of inner sanctum which advises party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

Saying that the PTI’s position was “understandable” since it had been pushing for early elections, the former PPP minister explained that his party was playing a different ball game altogether.

“We will have general elections two years down the road and the longer the Sharifs remain in the dock over their offshore holdings, the more the PPP can remove the tag of corruption which has been stuck to it and transfer that perception to the ruling party. This is why we are in no hurry to resolve the issue,” the PPP leader said. However, the former minister was quick to add that there would be no compromise with the government on the matter.

Another PPP leader from Punjab echoed this sentiment, saying that Mr Bhutto-Zardari had repeatedly assured the party’s leadership in the province that there wouldn’t be a deal with the PML-N as far as the Panama Papers were concerned.

Referring to one party meeting held recently in Islamabad, the PPP leader said that when Mr Bhutto-Zardari was asked what would happen if party co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari decided to join hands with the Sharifs, he had angrily maintained: “It will not happen.”

So far, PPP leaders, including Mr Zardari, have toed Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s line and have launched their own scathing attacks against the ruling family. Only last week, Mr Zardari issued a statement vowing not to compromise with the PML-N as far as investigations into the Panama Papers were concerned.

For its part, the government is quite aware of the political mileage that the PPP and PTI are hoping to get from the issue.

A senior minister told Dawn that the government was in touch with smaller opposition parties, such as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party and Qaumi Watan Party, and claimed that privately, they all supported “our point of view”.

The government was under no pressure, the minister insisted, because it was the PTI and PPP which had high hopes of the investigations, so it was better to let them juggle the ToR.

“We are not saying no to the ToR, but talks will only move forward if the opposition shirks its ‘get the prime minister’ mindset. The government only wants to convert Panamagate into an opportunity and make a law that can be invoked in the future if somebody is caught money-laundering,” one of the government’s legal advisers said.

One thing that is certain is that the government will not agree to a Panama-specific probe and will look to make the investigations more wide-ranging to include those who had their loans waived, or those who allegedly received kickbacks and commission.

According to a PTI office-bearer close to Mr Khan, the party was already preparing for a showdown with the government after Ramazan “as we don’t see anything positive coming out of the ongoing talks with the government”, adding that this would give the PPP ample time to decide which side it wanted to support.

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