ISLAMABAD - After a hype created in the recent days that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will take on the opposition in the National Assembly over the Panama leaks, the premier preferred to stay away from the house yesterday – testing the patience of his rivals who were awaiting him.

The opposition had rolled up sleeves for the bout and opened a fire of words before storming out of the hall. They did not return despite efforts by the government as Speaker Ayaz Sadiq engaged the legislators in constituency-level discussions to pass the time. Ultimately, he had to adjourn the proceedings for the day.

The lawmakers from the opposition believed PM Sharif was bound to take the parliament into confidence over the controversy.

Prime Minister’s absence was felt by the journalists too who had gathered in large number to witness the crossfire in the house. There were whispers that the PM had been advised by his close aides to let his workers do the job for him and silence the opposition which practically seemed impossible.

Firebrand Danyal Aziz did have a go but the audience was only a bunch of lawmakers from his own Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). The rivals were enjoying the helplessness of the government in the corridors or in the cafeteria. The thin presence on the treasury benches indicated they already knew PM Sharif was not coming.

The government tried to create a divide between the Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf by turning all guns towards the Imran Khan-led party.

There was no big mention of the PPP, who in many ways is spearheading the Panama leaks campaign as treasury members vented their anger on the PTI.

Danyal Aziz said those raising voice for the accountability were running away from the house. He claimed now the accountability will run after them.

He pointed out that immediately after release of Panama Papers, the Prime Minister volunteered himself and his family for the accountability.

The lawmaker said the opposition did not expect the government would go for a commission of Supreme Court judges but the government opted for that to come clear on charges levelled by the opposition.

He said the Terms of Reference prepared by the government were more comprehensive than those of the opposition. He said opposition had failed to come out with constructive criticism of the TORs framed by the government.

His colleagues, Talal Chaudhry and Maiza Hameed, criticised the PTI leadership for compromising on the dignity of the women who were harassed during the party’s recent rallies.

The lawmakers contended that the PTI should not invite women to attend such rallies if they cannot ensure security.

Outside the parliament, PPP lawmaker Nafeesa Shah said the PM had to come back to the house to brief the members. “We will not rest until he comes to the house. We will walk out from the hall again if he does not come and will continue this until he turns up. He can’t direct the house that has elected him,” she remarked.

Nafeesa Shah said the government was targeting the PTI to divide the opposition but they will fail. “The opposition will remain united on the Panama leaks issue. The government’s tricks will fail. We will also not let the standing committees work,” she added.

Just before boarding his car, PTI legislator Asad Umer said the PM should come to the house and speak ‘some more lies’.

“What’s the harm in speaking the same lies in the parliament? But he (PM Sharif) knows this won’t work. It will come on record and the opposition will ask questions,” he maintained.

He said the Panama leaks issue was not even on the agenda when the opposition was expecting a full-fledged debate. “The government can’t run from accountability now. The PM will have to come to the house to brief us,” Umer said.

Earlier, opposition leader Syed Khurshid Ahmad Shah demanded that Prime Minister Sharif should take the parliament into confidence on the issue. He said the opposition believes in democracy and supremacy of the parliament.

He claimed opposition’s TORs were not Prime Minister-specific, rather they would be equally applicable to all those named in Panama Papers.

PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the government and the opposition should sit together to discuss the TORs for the proposed commission to inquire into allegations levelled in Panama Papers.

This came after a meeting of the opposition parties where they threatened to launch protest against the government if their demands over the Panama leaks were not met.

Also, the much-awaited new list of Pakistanis owning offshore companies was released yesterday based on 11.5 million files shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The new list included Imran Khan’s close aide, Benazir Bhutto’s cousin, Asif Ali Zardari and Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain’s close friend, mother of Oscar Award winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and others.

There were indications the new list might encourage the PM and his advisors to come hard at the opposition and exploit their alleged links with the Panama leaks.

Information Minister Pervez Rashid said the incumbent government believed in transparency, and it was ready for accountability – a hint that the PM might grace the assembly soon to face the opposition.