ISLAMABAD: As the government and opposition continue to trade barbs over the investigation of the allegations contained in the Panama Papers leaks, the ruling party’s strategists have advised the prime minister to focus on governance and development instead of getting mired in a war of words with his arch-rival, PTI chief Imran Khan.

In this spirit, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has convened a meeting of the federal cabinet on Wednesday (today). This, officially dubbed the 24th cabinet meeting, is meant to discuss annual budgetary proposals.

The government also announced on Tuesday that it would stand firm on the announced ToRs for the proposed judicial commission, which will be formed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

Speaking to reporters, Law Minister Zahid Hamid said there would be no changes, as demanded by the opposition.

“A letter has been written to the chief justice for the constitution of the commission and its ToRs cover everything, including allegations of money laundering, tax evasion etc. The commission is absolutely free in its fact-finding objectives,” the law minister said, adding this was what opposition parties had been demanding.

In background discussions, several well-placed government officials told Dawn that after writing to the chief justice for the formation of a judicial commission, the PM should avoid unnecessary confrontations with opposition parties.

This why, in the coming weeks, the prime minister will be paying regular visits to the sites of ongoing development projects throughout the country, and will address public rallies side-by-side.

On Monday, PM Sharif made the first stop of his nationwide campaign in Kotli Sattiyaan, a small tehsil of Rawalpindi. However, the PM had to cancel a trip to Azad Kashmir on Tuesday — where he was scheduled to inspect the Neelum Jhelum hydropower project — due to bad weather.

Explaining the political equation that had emerged in the aftermath of Panamagate, a federal minister said that whatever happened, the PML-N was confident that the PPP would not go so far in its criticism of the government that it poses a threat to the existing set-up.

“The PPP desperately needs to stay in government in Sindh, perhaps even more than we want to complete our five-year term at the centre and in Punjab, so the PM is not worried,” he said.

In fact, “the prime minister and other top party leaders are amused by seeing PTI and PPP leaders on one platform, given how the PTI used to deride the PPP leadership for its corruption,” the minister added.

When asked about the rest of the opposition, the minister said the MQM couldn’t go against the government by implication, being embroiled in its own problems in Karachi.

On Monday, while talking to the media alongside opposition leaders, Dr Farooq Sattar refrained from backing the tough collective stand that PPP and PTI had adopted. He seemed more in favour of consultations that may save the country from destabilisation.

To another question, the minister said that the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) was no longer a relevant force in national politics.

At the end of the day, PTI will be the only party the government has to deal with when it came to Panamagate.

The party leadership, said a senior government adviser, wasn’t really perturbed about the prospects of Imran Khan mobilising his party for a proposed dharna if the ToRs of the proposed commission weren’t reformulated according to the wishes of opposition parties.

“As per our assessment, if Mr Khan goes ahead with his plan of laying siege to Raiwind single-handedly, the government should not have much difficulty countering him. One must not forget that at the moment, the PTI’s Punjab chapter is also in total disarray,” he said, referring to tensions between senior PTI leaders Jahangir Tareen and Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

The adviser also joked that the government was more than happy keeping Mr Khan engaged in Punjab, as this would keep him away from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where his regular presence over recent months had helped substantially improve provincial governance.

Another ruling party source close to the PM’s Office told Dawn that none of the political parties in parliament were in favour of cutting the PM’s tenure short, except PTI and Sheikh Rashid. This was why, he claimed, “there is no nervousness on our part”.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2016