In Pakistan, the fall out of prohibited funding verdict will be damaging
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) finally announced its verdict regarding allegations against Imran Khan’s political party for collecting prohibited funds abroad earlier this week. This has created fresh ripples in Pakistan’s already turbulent political waters. The ruling coalition parties are now demanding Khan’s disqualification. The case before the ECP pertained to funds collected abroad by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) between 2008 and 2012. PTI has challenged the decision, stating that prohibited funding is different from foreign funding, and the government has decided to refer it to the Supreme Court for a final verdict.
Foreign funding denotes monetary help to a political party by foreign governments or organizations working under their tutelage to promote their agendas. However, in this case no foreign funding was involved in that sense. It is true that PTI did receive funds overseas from individuals and companies. PTI’s plea is that legal stipulation against collection of funds from foreign companies was promulgated in Pakistan in 2017 and is not applicable retrospectively. The ruling coalition alleges that account statements, signed by Khan, contained some inaccuracies and this should be sufficient grounds for his disqualification. The counter-argument is that there is a clear difference between signing a certificate and an affidavit.
This legal hair-splitting is likely to continue for quite a while. A pertinent question in this scenario is whether this case should be allowed to create more political uncertainty, leading to an adverse impact on an already fragile economy. And if a harsh decision is taken against PTI, would the same not apply to other political parties in the future? It is a fact that PTI book-keeping, though not perfect, has been more transparent than that of other political parties. All funds pertaining to this case were remitted to Pakistan through banking channels and money trails were not hidden. Acts of omission are pardonable while acts of commission are not.
Imran Khan’s detractors plan to drag him in a legal battle in order to distract his attention from the general elections. They are already propagating to the general public that Khan is not as squeaky clean as he claims to be. PTI’s sterling performance in the recent by-elections in Punjab has clearly added to Khan’s political weight. For his opponents, this is a disturbing development. They are contemplating all means including propaganda, lawfare and even the return of Nawaz Sharif from London to resurrect the Muslim League, popularly known as PML(N).
PTI should not dismiss the ECP verdict as a mere show cause notice. It is actually the start of a serious legal battle.
This is a new case of its nature in Pakistan and its decision will set an important precedent. It is a pity that while political leaders of all shades should be sitting together to strengthen democracy and repair the economy, political fights are intensifying. Alleging partiality, PTI now demands the ouster of the Chairman Election Commission and its members. It is a pity that apolitical institutions of the state are being dragged into messy political fights. This however is not that easy as the Chairman, holding a constitutional appointment, can be removed only by the Supreme Judicial Council.
A general perception in informed circles is that PTI may have to pay a monetary penalty for its acts of omission. Historically, Imran Khan has always gained more popularity when pushed to the wall. A positive side to this verdict is that it may discipline the political parties, with regards to their fund-raising campaigns. In fact, PTI was the first Pakistani political party to launch an organized fund-raising campaign abroad.
Addressing big rallies in Islamabad and Karachi via video link, Khan has come hard on this verdict and termed it biased. He stated his arguments convincingly, pointing to the holes in the decision and said enough rigor was not applied before issuing it.
PTI however, should not dismiss the verdict as a mere show cause notice. It is actually the start of a serious legal battle. The ECP should start listening to similar cases against other political parties and give impartial verdicts to restore its credibility. The Supreme Court should constitute a bench to hear the case against PTI. And this whole process should be completed sooner, not later. The people and economy of Pakistan have already paid a heavy toll for the prevailing political uncertainty.
- Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.