Despite presenting themselves as polar opposites on policy and personality, Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan have much more in common than they care to admit. For one, both are currently facing legal summons to appear before a government body to face questioning, and both are steadfastly refusing to do so.

Even their reasoning is the same; the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has been asking Imran Khan to appear before it in contempt of court proceedings for a while now, and he has – through his attorney – been disputing the authority of the body to hear his case as a similar case is pending in the Supreme Court (SC). Nawaz Sharif, who has failed to appear before three National Accountability Bureau (NAB) hearings, also argues that as he has filed an appeal against the SC decision which de-seated him and constituted the NAB hearings, he does not have to appear before the accountability body.

Alas, the soundness of their arguments is also equally faulty. Only a court can stay an investigation or a hearing if the matter is under consideration in another forum – the litigants cannot unilaterally decide that they are beyond jurisdiction. They both had the right to ask for a stay, they both did, and were both denied. At the moment both are impeding the normal application of justice and undermining the “accountability process” that they so publically cherish – in fact it is the bedrock of the PTI. The longer they continue this belligerence, the shakier their principles become.

Currently, both are living in a legal grey area; you can legally contest the court’s authority, and you are legally allowed to miss a limited number of hearings before further action is taken. However, it won’t be long before their actions become full-blown criminality – the damage to their public images will be more catastrophic.

Nawaz Sharif’s commendable acquiescence to the SC verdict and his assertions about peacefully following the rule of law will only carry him so far – if he decides to evade NAB all the goodwill from previous actions will be lost. The consequences for Imran Khan are more grievous; ‘justice’ features in the name of his party, and accountability is his mantra – if he continues to hypocritically evade a court of law while vowing to take every other politician there, then the fiction of his honesty will come crashing around his ears.

There is no endgame here for both, no path to victory – either they become absconders to justice or they follow the rule of law. There is no third option.