Like Nawaz, Imran Khan also on slippery disqualification slope

With an economic crisis ahead, every civilian Pakistani government wants to normalise ties with India and the US. But the military won’t allow it.

WrittenBy:Umer Farooq
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On Tuesday last, the Pakistan Supreme Court judges repeated the same warning for Imran Khan which they issued before disqualifying former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

“If the curtain of Niazi Services Limited (an offshore company owned by Imran Khan) is raised, it proves that an amount of 100,000 pounds was an asset of the respondent (Imran Khan) and it will have legal consequences for not disclosing it to the Election Commission of Pakistan,” Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar observed during the proceedings of a petition filed by a Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz  MP in which the petitioner sought the disqualification of Imran Khan for not disclosing his assets, the ownership of an offshore company and foreign funds of his party.

After the disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the proceedings related to the petition seeking disqualification of Imran Khan has attracted tremendous media attention. Nawaz Sharif was disqualified for not disclosing the salary, lying in his bank account, which he used to receive from an offshore company owned by his son in Dubai.

Days before the disqualification verdict in Nawaz Sharif case, the Supreme Court judges issued the same warning that not disclosing the assets in his nomination papers before the Election Commission could have legal consequences for the respondent.

The verdict disqualified Nawaz Sharif as a member of parliament and since a person cannot be prime minister of the country if he loses his seat in the National Assembly, as a result he was disqualified as prime minister.

Imran Khan started giving prime ministerial looks the day Sharif was disqualified, “Vazeer-e-Azam (Prime Minister) Imran Khan” his party workers started raising this slogan incessantly wherever he went.

It seems now that the second potential prime minister, Imran Khan, in the Pakistani political system is also facing the threat of disqualification. And hiding of assets case in Supreme Court is not the only case in which he could be disqualified. There are two others:

Although the other case has not reached any judicial forum so far, a woman party member of Imran Khan has accused him of sexual harassment in public statements and television interviews.

Ayesha Gulalai has not approached any judicial forum with her accusation but she has launched a complaint with parliament in this regards. Secondly, the Election Commission of Pakistan is expected to announce its verdict in a contempt of court proceeding against Imran Khan on October 12, 2017, and this can also lead to his disqualification as a member of parliament if he is convicted of contempt of court.

The judicial tradition to ouster the sitting prime minister through a simple court verdict is not an old one in Pakistani political system. The first such case was the disqualification of PPP Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in 2012 on the flimsy charges of contempt of court.

When convicted on contempt of court charges by the Supreme Court, Gilani lost his seat and therefore, he ceased to remain prime minister of the country.

If now Imran Khan gets disqualified in any of the abovementioned cases, the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2018 would be the first in country’s history where the nation would go to polls without a single prime ministerial candidate in the field. Nawaz Sharif is already disqualified for life and all attempts to undo his disqualification through a constitutional amendment have been failures.

Imran Khan’s possible disqualification could lead to a situation where the second tier of leadership in both the leading political parties-PML N and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) would start styling themselves as future prime ministers.

The provisions for the reversal of a sustainable political process are built into the system by the previous military government of General Zia-ul-Haq. He introduced provisions in the constitution which disallowed anyone from becoming a member of parliament who is not honest and trustful (both purely subjective values), committed any sin or doesn’t lead a life according to the teachings of Islam.

It was on the basis of these provisions that Supreme Court invented the mechanism to oust the sitting prime minister, who, otherwise cannot be ousted by any external force (except through a no-confidence vote) under the provisions of Pakistani constitution.

Both in case of Yousaf Raza Gilani and Nawaz Sharif, the invented mechanism was brought into play at a time when the civil governments were on collision course with the military top brass of the time.

However, Imran Khan appears to be slightly unluckier than the first two gentlemen as his political life appears to be coming under the Damocles sword much before any possible clash with the military authorities started becoming apparent.

In the post-Musharraf period, two civilian governments have so far come to power in Islamabad (PPP from 2008-2013 and Muslim League 2013-till date) and both of them clashed with the military on issues of governance leading to uncertainties about their future. After clashes with the military top brass on both the occasions, the incumbent prime ministers were ousted from power.

Similarly, in the post-Zia period, the military orchestrated a game of musical chairs (as it is labelled in Pakistan’s political circles) played by Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto as both became prime minister twice one after the other in the period between 1988-1999. However, during this period a special provision existed in the constitution for the military-backed President to oust the government and call new elections.

In this 11-year period when the military establishment developed differences with the sitting prime minister-either Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto-they used to enter into an alliance with his or her opponent and subsequently used to bring him or her to power.

In the post-Musharraf period, however, the military seems to have realised that no matter how pliant a person they would bring to the seat of power in Islamabad he would develop differences with the military on the question of distribution of resources in the society and on the issues of governance.

This is the lesson for the military in the post-Musharraf period: Nawaz Sharif sided with the military and acted as its cheerleader when it developed differences with the PPP government in the period between 2008 and 2013. Now, Imran Khan is acting as the cheerleader of the military in its clashes with the Muslim League government. Now the question is will Imran Khan act any differently from previous examples if he comes to power in Islamabad?

Many Pakistani experts of civilian-military relations say that the differences that crop up between civilian governments and the military brass are not differences between a particular political party or political leader and the military. “These differences are not restricted to Nawaz Sharif only…These are differences of logic of governance that pits every civil government in Islamabad against the military,” the expert said on condition of anonymity.

The financial pie is shrinking for the Pakistani state due to deteriorating economic conditions and, in such a situation, every civilian government wants to normalise relations with India and United States. The military doesn’t see eye to eye with the successive civilian governments in post-Musharraf government. Take, for example, Imran Khan’s position on relations with India. Experts say there is absolutely no difference between Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan on the question of normalisation of relations with India.

People, who are in the know of things in Islamabad, say that Imran Khan might have proved to be a very good cheerleader for the military during the past four years, but he is certainly not their favourite for PM.


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