Carpe diem; politics is all about opportunities. If a party capitalises on an opening at the right time, it could mean the difference between acclaim and ridicule.

So it should come as no surprise that just as the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) seized the opportunity presented by the Panama Papers leak in April this year, so too has the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) pounced on deteriorating relations with India to divert public opinion from a scandal that could potentially embarrass its top leadership.

It has been fascinating to see how political machinations have unfolded in Pakistan over the past couple of months. When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was at the United Nations General Assembly making a case against Indian excesses in Kashmir, PTI chief Imran Khan was burning the midnight oil, exhorting party workers to join him in Raiwind – near the prime minister’s residence – for an anti-corruption protest.

At the UN, the prime minister was appreciated for effectively highlighting the plight of the Kashmiri people. The political leadership back home was also happy with his stance.

But with tensions simmering between India and Pakistan along the LoC, all opposition parties distanced themselves from the march on Raiwind, leaving Mr Khan to shoulder the huge responsibility of pulling off a massive show single-handedly.

But he managed to pull it off. Political commentators across the board acknowledged that the PTI chief had pulled off an impressive show; not only was there a large crowd, but participants listened to him on the Panamagate scandal.

The PTI leader has now threatened to lay siege to the capital city if the prime minister and his family didn’t present themselves for accountability. On the flip side, PM Sharif and his cohorts are putting up a brave, yet restrained defence in the face of constant Indian posturing, which is also being seen as a moral victory.

Now, after having succeeded on their respective fronts, it seems that both parties have decided to stick to the same game plans that have afforded them success thus far.

In background conversations with close aides to both leaders – Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan – individuals from both sides confirmed their strategies and justified them under the prevailing circumstances.

For one senior PML-N leader, it was Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had boldly raised the Kashmir issue in sharp contrast to his predecessors. “Why shouldn’t we take credit for it?” he asked.

No former leader, be it former military ruler retired General Pervez Musharraf or former president Asif Ali Zardari, no one had dared to speak on Kashmir in such a tone as PM Sharif adopted before the UN, he argued.

When confronted over why the government was whipping up tensions along the LoC, despite the army’s claim that no surgical strikes were carried out by India, the ruling party leader argued that it was the Indian leadership that had forced Pakistan to respond.

Moreover, another PML-N source said, whether they it was mere rhetoric or genuine threats from across the border, the calls for a multi-party conference and the joint sitting of parliament were actually issued by the PPP and other political parties; the government had only responded positively.

“Yes, at a time when Imran Khan is turning up the pressure on the government over Panamagate, these events are no less than a blessing in disguise for the government to divert the media’s prying gaze.”

On the other hand, the PTI leadership offers equally plausible arguments for its action plan. One of the party’s senior office bearers told Dawn that tens of thousands of people had come out in Lahore, not to appreciate the PM’s speech, but to seek accountability for him.

“The Kashmir issue is very dear to every Pakistani, but that doesn’t mean we should stop highlighting the government’s corruption and stand behind the prime minister whose name has appeared in the Panama Papers.”

As the PTI chairman said when he announced his boycott of parliament, the resolution passed by the multi-party conference was more than enough to show solidarity with the Kashmiri people. “The government wants to continue its propaganda to sideline the Panamagate scandal and the PTI will not let that happen,” said the PTI office bearer.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2016

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