A variant of the bizarre

Friday, Aug 05, 2022

The Friday Column

By Raoof Hasan

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad”. – Euripides The verdict announced by the ECP in the PTI prohibited funding case is a horrible amalgam of assumptions, contradictions and conclusions drawn. It establishes a sinister, premeditated and orchestrated conspiracy to malign Imran Khan who has decidedly emerged as the most popular leader ever in the country, and who is presumed as a threat to the corrupt and criminal oligarchies that the Sharif and Zardari clans have hoisted.

The ECP verdict not only fails to establish any foreign funding connection with the party, but also exposes the real intentions in giving a judgment under the direct supervision of its patrons and promoters.

Let’s acknowledge first that the PTI is the party that initiated the concept of political fundraising in Pakistan which is an established norm throughout the world of advanced democracies. This was in preference to collections from unknown and undisclosed sources by all other political parties of the country. Names with full details of over 40,000 donors were provided to the ECP for any possible verification that they may have wanted to undertake. Instead, they proved to be more interested in sifting through photocopies to find an alibi for a pre-meditated verdict.

On the legal side, the case pertains to the period 2008-13 which was being heard under the Political Parties Act 2002, and not the Election Act which was promulgated in 2017. The amendments regarding “prohibited sources” including individuals, companies, multi-nationals and foreign nationals were adopted after the case against the PTI had already been initiated. Applying the requirements under the Election Act retrospectively is symptomatic of patently mala fide intent on the part of the ECP. Questions which have been raised about receipt of funding from the UAE on the ground that relevant local laws did not permit fundraising seem to be inconsistent with reality. Even if the PTI violated the laws of the UAE, a case can only be registered there, not in Pakistan. Also, did the ECP bother to check whether permission had been secured from the authorities in the UAE for fundraising?

Abraaj was a well-reputed company when the events for fundraising were held. It was only in 2018 that the company was accused of committing fraud. Was the PTI leadership blessed with some celestial powers to know years in advance that Abraaj would be accused of fraud? This falls well beyond the parameters of logic and reason which can only be explained by the strange ECP wisdom. More so, Arif Naqvi has only been indicted for fraud, but not convicted yet. How can an accusation of having committed a crime be taken for conviction?

The yardsticks applied to determine whether a donor is of foreign origin or otherwise are absolutely hilarious. A case that stands out is of a gentleman, Nasir Aziz, whose wife, Romita Shetty, is of India origin. They donated $27,500 from their joint account. The ECP, in its absolute wisdom, accepted half of the amount ($13,750) as legitimate and the other half was declared as “prohibited” because it came from an Indian-origin woman. In certain other cases, the Scrutiny Committee took decisions merely on the assumption whether a particular name sounded like one of foreign origin.

Then there were questions raised about donors who contributed in their individual capacity, but used the company accounts to transfer amounts to the PTI. The ECP failed to realize that this, by no means, can be construed as “prohibited funding” as most of these companies are single-person ventures owned by the donors.

The ECP claimed that Imran Khan had submitted an “affidavit” whose contents were not correct. The commission could not even distinguish between an ‘affidavit’ (which was not submitted) and a ‘certificate’ (which was actually submitted). This only means that the decisions were made without making an effort to scrutinize the material.

It is also alleged that the PTI concealed some of its accounts. The party was supposed to declare only such accounts where donations had been deposited, which it did. The other accounts were used for disbursement of funds to various party organizations and no donations were credited there which, under relevant laws, it was not required to disclose.

This verdict is also a blatant violation of the Supreme Court (2018) and Islamabad High Court (2021) injunctions which had directed the ECP to announce decisions pertaining to the funding cases of PTI, PPP and PML-N simultaneously. But the ECP’s mind was made up that it was to single out the PTI for targeting, which it has done rather shabbily.

Then there are some moral questions that also arise out of the conduct of the ECP. It was always projected as a ‘foreign funding’ case which it never was. It was only a ‘prohibited funding’ case which the ECP has now finally conceded to. Why did the ECP play into the hands of the (then) opposition and (present) government members to project the nature of the case fraudulently? Similarly, the possibility of banning the political party did not even exist, but it

was consistently projected as a distinct possibility. The manner and method of dissolving a political party are contained in the relevant laws which did not apply here.

I have always contended that Pakistan’s principal problems stem from the unprofessional and dishonest conduct of its institutions, the ECP being one of them. The heads of these bodies as well as other functionaries have preferred to establish abject subservience to those who wield the instruments of power. This has always been at the cost of justice and absence of provision of fair and equitable ground to people as well as competing interests to project their respective positions.

The lacunae cited above constitute considerable ground for questioning the ECP’s conduct in formulating the final judgement in the case. There are two major grounds for taking the matter for further adjudication: one pertains to contempt of court(s) and the other is about the legal questions that have arisen as a consequence of the judgment.

Much drama has been enacted over the last eight years about the nature of the case, but a lot more of it is packed into the contents of the order which is nothing more than a pre-designed tool gifted by an abysmally partisan and criminally complicit ECP to the parties opposed to Imran Khan and his mission so that they could exploit the PTI by using the judgment. It is a crude hatchet job which is likely to soon explode in their faces, thus further soiling the status of the institution.

The ECP verdict makes for a perfect case of a variant of the bizarre with Pakistan being the ultimate victim.

The writer is a political and security strategist and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute in Islamabad. He tweets @RaoofHasan