ISLAMABAD - Since it is an open season to quote the French novelists and playwrights, especially Honore de Balzac, one is tempted to follow the vogue. Apart from casting doubt on the origins of all great fortunes and wealth, Balzac had also remarked, “Conscience is our unerring judge until we finally stifle it.”

Ever since the announcement of the Panama Papers verdict, many politicians and commentators are demanding the resignation of the prime minister on ‘moral grounds.’ Morals and conscience are the first casualties when an individual step into the political arena. Stifling one’s conscience is, therefore, the Faustian bargain of every politician. Calls for a resignation are politically naïve and hopelessly idealistic. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will not throw in the towel.

The Panama Papers verdict could not have been different if one goes by the law. All those who understand it, and weren’t swayed by political emotions and ambitions, anticipated that the Supreme Court couldn’t shed away its essence: of being an appellate court. The formation of an investigation panel, name it a judicial commission or a joint investigation team, was inevitable. But even here, the justices have employed a rather perplexing method. There is stinging and scathing commentary and admonishment based on morality and – perhaps understandable – skepticism about Sharif family’s wealth. But tossing the investigation back to the same institutions, which receive a damning critique from the justices in the verdict, is indeed akin to chewing their own words. Inclusion of military’s intelligence officials is wrought with future complications. Flashes of populism and political biases are a tad bit evident in the dissenting notes. There is also an impression that the dissenting justices have attempted to increase the space and outreach of judicial powers. And since both dissenting justices will head the Supreme Court in the near future, the practical demonstration of this attempt is not too far.

For the ruling family, it appears that the path forward will be more or less downhill. The carefully crafted image of a hard-working, middle-class family, observant of religion and eastern traditional values, has cracked. The consistent, yearlong hullaballoo over Panama Papers revelations has placed the ruling party at the same spot of public opprobrium that spurns corruption and has stuck like tar with the Pakistan Peoples Party.

Imran Khan had sought the help of the military earlier and was now counting on justices to oust the prime minister. But PTI has now realized that it has no friends and, therefore, the knee-jerk reaction of Imran Khan has been to revert back to the streets.

The increasing political agitation and dissent in the political arena are expected to forge more pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The coming weeks will indicate how much momentum the anti-Nawaz sentiment gains.

Opposition politicians, especially Asif Ali Zardari, smell blood in the water. The former president realizes that Imran Khan’s politics runs short of guile and remains high on rhetoric and (social) media optics. While PTI exhausts its energy in back to back rallies and street agitation, Zardari has embarked on reconnecting with politicians he thinks can win seats in the next elections. Given the deep polarization and PML-N’s diminishing position, the next parliament is expected to be a hung parliament. Even if the combined opposition forces an early election by the end of this year, the result will not be different. In that eventuality, the ability to make alliances will serve Asif Ali Zardari (and Maulana Fazlur Rehman) the most. PPP insiders claim that the PPP co-chairman hopes to grab at least 50 seats in the next elections and aims to become the president again. If that fails and he falls short of the desired number, he will still be in the kingmaker position.

For PM Nawaz, the choices are stark. With a slipping grip on power and lack of widespread popularity, he cannot hope to win a majority in the next elections. Imran Khan is continuously chipping away at his power base in Punjab and expected to gain more strength. It makes political sense to strike a bargain now (yes, once again) with Asif Ali Zardari. Even though done from a weaker footing, the move would still result in countering the PTI threat. But there is more likelihood of an intense three-way fight between Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari and Imran Khan until the elections.

Now that brand Nawaz Sharif has been tainted, and brand Maryam Nawaz Sharif got off to a hobbled beginning, there is a need to recalibrate. Will they be able to find a new incarnation after ‘Panama’? PML-N supporters are inclined to say, “Inshallah!”