It is only when a position becomes indefensible that ad hominum attacks are launched on the accusing party and scandals from the past are dug up. It has been the oldest trick in the political playbook; if you’re going down, take everyone with you. Before the intricacies – and there are not many – of the regurgitated debate over visas issued to US officials are analysed, we must firmly keep in mind the context of this debate. The Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) has been taking a beating during the Panama scandal, and the worst may be yet to come. To distract from that debacle and to score a few political points of its own the party has gone on the offensive.

As such this new “scandal” must be treated as what it is – a stick to beat the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) with. The ruling party, which was then the opposition, used this stick extensively when the scandal was fresh. Nothing came off it then, and the issue was allowed to die the death it deserved.

However the issue is back, and like the last time has very few legs to stand on. The simple fact is every government, military or civilian, since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and perhaps even before that, had some sort of streamlined method of giving diplomatic visas to US officials – a key Pakistani ally. Never has this process of expedited visas been controversial, and is relatively standard around the world for important allies. Even now Chinese officials who are a part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are facilitated by the executive branch when they seek entry into Pakistan in a similar fashion. Processes may be simplified and discretion given to embassy staff, but no visas are issued without government oversight or a go ahead by the military and security agencies – a fact has that never been disputed by the PML-N.

However the government wants to push this issue and while individuals in the PPP are trying to dodge full responsibility the party itself is welcoming the inquiry – not quite the reaction the PML-N hoped for. The government may also have to release the report on the Abbottabad raid if those events are going to be exhumed – the impact of whose revelations the government has no control over, and which might upset the delicate civil-military balance.

This scandal has a short shelf life, with the PPP welcoming an investigation there is not much the government can do, and once the Panama verdict is out, no amount of smoke and mirrors can distract the public from what’s due.