At long last, the military has waded into the Panama papers quagmire; although it was careful to only make oblique references in the statement by the Chief of Army Staff. Speaking at an army function, Raheel Sharif called for accountability and ending corruption. Crucially, the COAS claimed that the armed forces will “fully support every meaningful effort in that direction” – which indicates the military has left its options open and expansive. In the background of the Prime Minister’s trip to London, it is without question that the military has entered the Panama fray – the bigger question here is, did it need to?

Why must the COAS make this statement? There was no imperative on him to pick a side or present his views, neither does his institution tackle corruption, nor is it allowed to do so according to the constitution. Keeping in mind the long history of military coups and the witch hunts for politicians by military dictators under the guise of ‘accountability’, the statement only serves to highlight the schism between the civilian and military leadership – perhaps even widen it. The military might be doing a fine job fighting the religious militancy, but statements like these makes one think that the army still believes it can do a fine job running the country as well.

Setting their desire to damage the PML-N aside, parties like the PPP and ANP have done well to take the statement on its merit and criticise it.

Both asserted that accountability is not the army’s job and if it is then it should begin with itself first. The armed forces are not beyond reproach when it comes to financial corruption – especially when it comes to real estate. Land-grabbing in Okara, alleged collusion with Bahria Town, and the legal issues surrounding Defence Housing Society are all outstanding issues. If the COAS moves forward with “across the board” accountability, the army must clean its own house first.

Of course, not all parties showed such restraint; most jumped at the chance to put more pressure on the PML-N and roundly welcomed the statement. PTI might be trying to hold the government accountable but it must not do so by inviting the military into civilian matters. The end does not justify the means – a concept that the PTI has had trouble understanding before.

Such is the clout of the COAS that even the PML-N tried to wriggle itself on the right side of the statement by construing the remarks to be in support of the government’s anti-corruption policy – and predictably, the attempt failed. It may be inopportune and unwise, but the COAS statement has definitely hurt the ruling party.