Foreign funding and high moral ground

May 22, 2022

People are wondering whether Imran Khan is willing to be judged according to high standards he sets for others

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akistan Tahreek-i-Insaaf chairman Imran Khan has vehemently criticised the new government for accusing others of corruption and maladministration rather than answering questions about its own performance.

His criticism appears valid.

A peculiarity of the argument, however, is that Khan, who has all along placed himself at a higher pedestal than his political rivals, is seen using similar tactics. Interestingly the strategy is not only being used in the political arena, but has also been adopted before the Election Commission of Pakistan.

A formal request by the PTI that the foreign funding case against it should not go further unless similar proceedings are undertaken simultaneously against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party, has been turned down by the ECP. This eerily sounds like somebody refusing to pay a fine for a parking violation unless all other vehicles in the parking zone are issued challans before him.

The irony is that many PTI supporters, who pride themselves on being nothing like the blind followers of other political leaders, say they agree with the defence and invoke the constitutional right to equal treatment before law. They refuse to acknowledge that Article 25 of the constitution does not give anybody a right to stop a legal proceeding until proceedings on the same question of law are concurrently undertaken against all other accused. Article 25 only mandates that, if and when, a similar issue is brought to legal forum, it must be dealt with the same yardstick. Equal treatment before law does not make conviction or sentencing of a felon contingent on trial and punishment of another. They refuse also to contemplate where the buck would stop if such an interpretation is allowed. This is a clear example of an endless loop.

This issue of alleged foreign funding was first raised in November 2014, when a complaint was filed by a PTI founding member, Akber Sher Baber. His claim to PTI membership is now contested. There is no denying, however, that Baber not only contested an election on a PTI ticket but also held various positions in the party till September 2011.

Just when the wheels were turning for the PTI, Baber raised a concern about whether the party funds were collected and accounted for in a transparent and legal manner. To be precise, his allegations fall within the ambit of Articles 3, 5, 6 and 13 of the Political Parties Order, 2002.

The 2002 Order has, since been replaced by the Election Act, 2017. The most important addition in the 2017 Act is the inclusion of ‘individual’ in ‘foreign source.’ Whereas the 2002 Order did not prohibit contributions or donations from individuals, the 2017 law does. It is worth mentioning that a potential ground for a reference of dissolution of a political party, amongst others, is that it received a part of its funds from a foreign national.

It is beyond comprehension for a common man as to why a party that preaches accountability as its gospel is leaving no stone unturned to prevent a ruling in this case. People vividly remember that Khan repeatedly said at the time of Panama Leaks that only a thief will run away from transparent accountability.

The best defence PTI’s lawyers can put up is that it only received funds from Pakistani nationals. However, due to poor record keeping they are unable to account for a portion of the funds which is alleged to have been received from foreign nationals. In the event this defence is accepted, the unaccounted portion of funds can be forfeited. The worst-case scenario, of course, is failing to convince the ECP, which can result in a reference to the Supreme Court of Pakistan for the dissolution of the party.

Given that Khan has been accusing anyone and everyone of being morally reprehensible creatures, it seems likely that the PTI does not expect a favourable outcome. No wonder then that it has been seeking delays for eight years on one pretext or another.

The PTI has taken several positions before the ECP and the superior courts possibly with the objective of delaying the inevitable outcome. In hindsight, all those stances and petitions have failed to produce the desirable result.

To start with, the membership status of the complainant was challenged. Next, a personal vendetta between the complainant and Imran Khan was also alleged. The fact that several cases have been filed against Akbar Babar establishes bad blood to the extent of one party. All those cases have either been withdrawn or dismissed. This history is also part of the record in the proceedings before the ECP.

It has also been emphasised that the complaint may be dismissed on the ground of lack of verifiable or actionable material. Bear in mind that the complaint was actually filed for violation of Article 5 of the 2002 Order which mandates that party members be given access to party records. If anything, this defence indirectly supports the assertions made by complainant. Moreover, sharing of documents under scrutiny by the ECP with the complainant was objected to.

Next the jurisdiction of the ECP to take cognizance of the complaint was questioned. The status of the ECP being an administrative body or tribunal or court was also taken to higher courts. After all the water under the bridge, no favourable outcome has yet been achieved by the PTI except for delay.

It is beyond comprehension for a common man as to why a party that preaches accountability as its gospel is leaving no stone unturned to avoid the conclusion of a transparency issue. People vividly remember how Khan repeatedly said at the time of Panama Leaks that only a thief would run away from accountability. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, people are wondering whether Khan is willing to be judged by the same high standards he sets for others.


The writer is a managing partner at an Islamabad-based law firm. He deals with legal corporate and commercial matters. He tweets at H_Rohila and can be reached at hammad_rohilahotmail.com



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