ISLAMABAD: Ahead of an expected government-opposition meeting on the terms of reference (ToR) for a judicial investigation into the allegations thrown up by the Panama Papers leaks, the legal team of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will meet on Friday (today) to consider the government’s response to the ToR prepared by opposition parties.
On Thursday, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah called upon the government to initiate a dialogue with the opposition over the ToR, adding that he had formally sent the opposition’s draft to the prime minister.
An aide to the prime minister confirmed, “we have received the ToR framed by opposition parties and will brainstorm our response to them.” Since the government had already decided to engage with the opposition over the ToR, he said the modalities of this engagement would also be worked out during the meeting.
The PM’s aide, who is also part of the government’s legal team, told Dawn that there was one basic difference between the ToRs from both sides.
Khursheed Shah claims PM invited trouble by addressing the nation twice; minister admits govt on weak footing
“The government intends to clarify once and for all the allegations faced by the prime minister and his family regarding tax evasion, loan default and money laundering. However, the opposition seems to be working on a one-point agenda; to get the prime minister,” the aide said, adding that every single line of the opposition-framed ToR referred directly or indirectly to the prime minister and his family.
While opposition wants to place the burden of proof — to justify the money trail that allowed them to set up their offshore companies — on the prime minister’s children, the government insists that the commission should investigate all the Pakistanis whose names had appeared in the Panama Papers, in addition to those who had their loans waived. The latter category is not mentioned in the leaks.
When asked about the chances of finding a common ground once both sides sit across the table, a member of the federal cabinet said the opposition seemed determined to drag the issue, since it suited them.
“As far as the prime minister and the government are concerned, we want to resolve this as soon as possible. I assure you that this is a completely political issue and will be played on political turf; let’s see who wins in the end,” the minister said. When pressed, he reluctantly conceded that it was the government that was currently on weak ground.
The minister was of the view that even if the PPP and other opposition parties reached a consensus, the Imran Khan-led PTI wouldn’t let the issue die down anytime soon.
Softening his tone against the government, Khursheed Shah said on Thursday that by withdrawing their demand for the prime minister’s resignation, opposition parties were actually sending the government the message that it did not want a political showdown.
“We do not want a confrontation with the government. We have provided the PM an opportunity to explain his position before parliament,” he declared.
Mr Shah said the opposition and the government had succeeded in reaching a consensus on the ToR for the commission on pre-poll rigging, and they could do it again.
He assured the government that the opposition would not shy away from dialogue and challenged the government to identify a single point from the opposition-prepared ToR which could not be implemented.
Responding to criticism that the opposition only wanted to target the prime minister, he said it was PM Sharif who invited trouble for himself by addressing the nation twice.
The opposition, he claimed, wanted the prime minister’s accountability first as he was the country’s chief executive and the custodian of the constitution.
However, he clarified that no one from the government had contacted him thus far.
Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2016