Nawaz Sharif, outside the political system and hemmed in on all sides by hostile political parties and state institutions, like the senior judiciary and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), has been steadily increasing the severity of his criticism’s against the government. It was only a matter of time before he would hit a nerve with the powers that be. His recent interview has done just that – hit the same nerve exposed in the so-called Dawn Leaks scandal, the same one that seems to be the crux of his disagreement with the military. This time however, the reaction has been much more frenzied.

The veracity of his statements is bygone matter at this moment. His claim, the Pakistani military trains and supports armed groups against India, and those who took part in the Mumbai attack, is one of those statements that not many will agree to in public, but behind closed doors it is a separate matter. Pakistan’s support for armed groups has been publically accepted by several officials from the security apparatus – from former President and military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, to former heads of the country’s spy agency. Foreign observers and attested to this fact time and again and Hafiz Saeed’s preferential treatment at the hands of the state is there for everyone to see. Calling it an “open secret” will be an understatement.

The problem lies with the timing of the claim and its specific mention of Mumbai. The Indian media ran with the story, conflating and exaggerating it, causing embarrassment to the military once more.

This has prompted an even harsher backlash back home. While many commentators and political parties chose to dig their heads in the sand and denied any possibility of Pakistan sponsoring armed groups – blaming actions by non-state actors on foreign agencies as false flag attacks – many paradoxically agreed to the crux of his statement, but believed that Nawaz Sharif shouldn’t have made such a damaging claim in public.

The veracity of his statements aside, their political ramifications is troubling – at least for the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N). It is possible that even Nawaz Sharif did not expect such a severe backlash. In an election campaign where the party is pit against the establishment, the judiciary’s activism is unbridled, and a bias against the ruling party obvious – this statement might come back to haunt Nawaz Sharif.

At this point it is also pertinent to ask rival parties to curb their vitriol. Nawaz Sharif’s comments may seem like an opportunity to gain political mileage – but branding the man a traitor and asking for him to be hanged is going too far. The media wing of opposition parties – especially Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) needs to reel itself in.