In a not wholly unexpected move the government rejected the opposition’s draft of the terms of reference (ToR) for an inquiry commission on the Panama Papers allegations on Wednesday. This follows the opposition’s rejection of the government’s draft from earlier – which, interestingly, was presented by the government after rejecting the opposition’s demand for an outright resignation of the Prime Minister. What should have been a settled and ongoing investigation at this point has devolved into a ping pong match over the ambit of the investigation, and Nawaz Sharif’s address to the public – which was supposed to be a definitive moment in the Panama scandal – is just another talking point in an ongoing negotiation.

This exchange seemingly brings us back to square one. There is no timeframe to the investigation, or even a guarantee that it will happen. The government, especially Nawaz Sharif, has been roundly, openly and severely criticised by all strata of the public, but the government still doesn’t want him to be the main target of the investigation because it is inquiry will tarnish the image of the Prime Minister and his family and eventually cripple the government. The Prime Minister must realise that it is too late to be untarnished; now his best bet is to wash off the allegations in front of an open court.

The opposition is not without fault either; it has its own ulterior motives. By focusing the ToRs on the Prime Minister the lawmakers hope that other Pakistanis named in the papers will go unnoticed – which include several political figures from the opposition. Blaming the opposition for trying to discredit the Prime Minister is pointless, since it is essentially their job in the past few weeks, but they may be going too far on presenting Nawaz Sharif as a culprit during the course of the investigation, no matter the official report.

If the standoff during the sit-in is anything to go by, both sides will be exchanging rejections and counter-rejections for quite some while. Despite speaking in positive tones over a negotiated settlement, both sides are stubbornly sticking to their guns. The Prime Minister needs to remember that brinkmanship may get him a few advantages, but time is not on his side; the longer the stand-off continues, the more dishonest the PML-N seems (if that is possible).

It is advisable that both sides stop trying to secure favourable ToRs and focus on running the state – which has come to a halt since the scandal broke into the news.