Amid crisis from all corners, Pak PM staring at disqualification from office
Since taking over the Prime Minister’s office in August last year, Imran Khan has been dealing with one crisis after another. In the immediate aftermath of the election triumph, Khan had to face an opposition alliance giving him a taste of his own medicine as it called the July polls rigged. Since that subsided, Khan has faced the most crippling economic crisis, gas shortage, along with last month’s military confrontation with India, which came among threats of sanctions by the terror-financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force.
As the list of national challenges grows, the last thing Khan needs is uncertainty over his own position. With two petitions seeking his disqualification filed in the Lahore High Court (LHC), he faces threat of being ousted from the Prime Minister’s post.
On March 11, LHC’s Justice Shahid Waheed recused himself from the cases against Khan, maintaining that he took the decision for ‘personal reasons’. The two-member bench, which also included Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh, briefly heard the arguments against Khan on Monday before Justice Waheed stepped down. The case has been adjourned indefinitely, with the high court being asked to constitute a new bench to hear the petitions.
Petitioners Abdul Wahab and Mudassir, in their respective cases, seek Khan’s ouster for breaching the Constitution’s Articles 62 and 63, which underline that every parliamentarian needs to be ‘sadiq’ and ‘ameen’ – Arabic terms roughly translating into honest and righteous, respectively.
The petitions accused Khan of concealing the name of his alleged love child Tyrian Jade Khan White in the nomination papers for last year’s general elections. Tyrian White, the daughter of Ana-Luisa White, often lives with Khan’s first ex-wife Jemima Goldsmith and his sons, further adding to allegations that she is Khan’s daughter, born out of wedlock.
It was breach of Articles 62 and 63 that resulted in former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification in July 2017. The Supreme Court had ruled that Sharif had concealed a salary from his son’s company in his nomination papers for the 2013 elections, meaning that he was no longer ‘sadiq’ and ‘ameen’. In April last year, the apex court ruled that disqualification under this clause is for life.
“Considering the parameters of disqualification of Nawaz, [Imran Khan’s] case is more fit for the same fate,” notes Lahore High Court advocate and legal analyst Shoaib Saleem.
“He has a daughter that he didn’t mention in his nomination papers. And he also did not challenge the decision of an American court declaring [Tyrian White] his daughter – which means he accepted the same,” he adds.
In 1997, a Los Angeles court ruled that Khan is Tyrian White’s father, following a paternity test. Despite continuing to provide for his alleged daughter, Khan has rejected the court’s verdict in Pakistan, without ever formally challenging the ruling.
Khan’s political rivals, most notably the largest opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), allege that his rise to the PM House was ‘manufactured’ by the all-powerful military establishment, accusing it of collaborating with the judiciary to give lopsided verdicts.
Following Sharif’s lifetime disqualification last year, he currently languishes in jail over corruption references, with other PML-N leaders arrested by accountability courts as well. Given the rulings against the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the second largest opposition party, the accusations of the military establishment continuing its policy of ‘political engineering’ persist, raising questions around the possibility that the high court rules against Imran Khan.
The arrest of senior Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Aleem Khan last month over corruption charges is interpreted by the ruling party as evidence that its accountability drive is being carried out without any discrimination. Former PTI Punjab President Ejaz Chaudhary maintains that Aleem Khan’s arrest vindicate his party’s claims of rule of law for everyone.
“Our party has promised a naya (new) Pakistan, where the law would apply to everyone equally. The opposition parties are trying to deflect from their own crimes by pointing fingers at us, but our leadership is addressing all allegations,” he says, adding that Imran Khan isn’t afraid of any court cases.
“The Prime Minister has said that accountability starts with him. He is willing to present himself for any investigation – because he knows he’s in the right. The PTI knows it has the moral high ground because once any of our ministers is accused, they step down and face the court charges till they clear their name,” Chaudhary says.
PML-N’s senator Javed Abbasi, however, reiterates that there is a disproportionate targeting of his party’s members.
“Many of the PML-N leaders under investigation are facing the court and clearing their names including party president Shehbaz Sharif,” he says, pointing out that not every PTI leader has stepped down to fight court cases.
“The Prime Minister himself, for example. Why doesn’t he resign to address the petitions and cases against him!” he asks.
Analysts say the court cases function as a sword hanging over the civilian rulers, for the military establishment to cut them down to size should they look to act against the Army’s interests.
“This is why the judiciary won’t disqualify Imran Khan, because that is not included in the script for new Pakistan,” maintains Shoaib Saleem.