LAHORE - The PML-N at the government and party level, after passing through comfortably from the street protest held by the PTI and the PAT on the issue of Panama leaks and Model Town killings, is now up against the legal battle before the Election Commission and the Supreme Court.

Following the Quetta terror hit which took lives of 72 people on August 8, fear was almost over for the PML-N that any protest on the roads would be damaging for the government as security matters had overshadowed all other issues.

The opposition side has now resorted to both protest and legal course to achieve a single goal i.e. that is ouster of the Sharifs. Previously, the PML-N had strategised well on August 7 when Peshawar head of the party, Ameer Muqam, took the wind out of PTI’s sails by holding a counter power show in Peshawar. The party has quite a handy second-tier leadership that could face the opposition in this arena. But now the PML-N has been thrown into the legal battle as well as public protest by the opposition. Political observers, in their background interviews say, the fronts opened by the opposition aim at making the law against the Sharifs as strict as it was during the PPP’s last tenure when a prime minister had to lose the office on the question of writing a letter to the Swiss courts for reopening cases against Asif Ali Zardari. But the point is that the opposition is not united as the larger parties are watching their own interests instead of putting in combined efforts.

In this scenario, the focus of the government may be on the legal side instead of mobilising the public. At present, the main opposition parties are PPP, PTI, MQM, PAT, JI and some smaller ones. The PPP is a key to lend force to the opposition moves, but its leadership appears divided in Punjab and Sindh with different minds to pit against the government. After change of guard in Sindh, the PPP is projecting itself on public service mode under Syed Murad Ali Shah. It reflects the party mood to gather political strength at the home ground and then regain the party vote in the other provinces. For observers, the public protest or the legal option at this juncture for the PPP also means more to wriggle out of a milieu wherein Dr Asim Hussain, Ayyan Ali and others figure in than going all out against the government. Though the Punjab leadership of the party desires an aggressive stand against the government, reports say Asif Ali Zardari does not subscribe to this notion. Opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah now talks of joining the PTI in street protest in September, but the collective decision of the on this count is awaited.

The PTI held a long march from Peshawar to Pindi while the PAT organized multiple protests in different cities of the country. The impact of the show was not that telling on the public as the show held two years ago. The PML- N has termed them totally flop shows. The march from Pindi to Islamabad was also short of the past magnitude. The PTI has planned a series of public power shows as a warm-up to a major march which may be towards Raiwind where the Sharifs reside.

By all counts, the PML-N government is now the least disturbed by all that. However, a segment in the party strongly believes that Damocles’ sword of the Panama issue will continue to perturb the top leaders to the extent of hitting its overall credibility. So a need is there to settle it down one way or the other. Moreover, the same issue may crop up again with even more might at the time of next elections. With this idea in the mind, the PML-N leadership did not let the chance of dialogue with PPP on the Panama probe ToRs die down.

The PML-N wants to settle down the Panama leaks on its own terms to extend its scope to all the politicians involved in corruption. Right now the issue is on the roads, before the Election Commission of Pakistan, the Supreme Court and the National Assembly speaker. As a counterblast, the government side has also filed a reference before the speaker against PTI Chief Imran Khan while it was poised to dig out evidence against other PTI leaders, Jahangir Tareen and Abdul Aleem Khan, over running offshore companies. Right now the Election Commission of Pakistan has taken up the matter and issued notices to the Sharifs for reply. The ECP is competent to disqualify a politician on solid evidence, but it has to act on the direction of the Supreme Court.

Similarly, if the NA speaker passes any order, he will also refer the matter to the ECP. It is, therefore, the ultimate forum for execution of any decision. The fourth course for getting the matter resolved is decision on the ToRs, which sounds more preferable for the government. In view of the experts, the legal battle has many mazes and is likely to take time to reach the final conclusion. If the SC starts hearing, the ECP and the speaker may wait and in case of an inquiry after decision on the ToRs, many essentials about evidence, local law in Panama and others may be required before starting the main course. Despite all that, settlement of the Panama issue is desire of both the opposition and the ruling side. The opposition wants its decision without giving much time to the government.