It was a case of first impression for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) when a complaint was filed in 2014 by a disgruntled founder member of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Akbar S Babar, under article 6 of the Political Parties Order 2002. Despite grabbing headlines due to its possible consequences for Imran Khan and his political party, the chances of it making any headway, let alone eventual success, struck many as a no brainer. So much so that the ECP, which deals with matters arising out of elections day in and day out, was not sure whether the case fell within its jurisdiction or not, in the strict legal sense. The role of the ECP as a regulator of political parties, although defined in the relevant law, had never been invoked in Pakistan before, such was the novelty and mystique that surrounded the issue of funding of political parties in general and that of the PTI in particular.
Whatever its political reverberations and fallout, Akbar S. Babar and his lawyer Ahmad Hassan Shah’s epic journey dotted with disappointments and frustrations but, at the same time, fuelled by strong will is a fascinating saga. It will have its lasting imprint on our politics for a long time to come. It was in nobody’s wildest dreams that something that initially started out as a source of entertainment via political talk shows could one day become a matter of life and death for the PTI and its chairman.
Even Islamabad High Court (IHC) took a couple of years to get accustomed to the issues raised in the complaint as the court was moved many times with a barrage of writ petitions filed by lawyers on behalf of the PTI, challenging almost every interim order passed by the ECP relating to the party’s funding. Once the indomitable spirit of Akbar S. Babar was acknowledged by the ECP and the PTI alike, taking the case out of the realm of light entertainment on news channels, serious business started in earnest. Again, as a first, a scrutiny committee was formed by the ECP to give a professional opinion on the reams of papers filed by the party.
After subjecting the ECP and the parties to exasperating delays seemingly to break their will, the reams of papers submitted by the PTI, which included letters, certificates, bank statements, banking papers showing wire transfers etc, was like signing the death warrant of the PTI and its elected members
Although the level of interest of the deep state has been pretty low considering the seemingly ‘frivolous’ nature of the complaint but similarities with the formation of a Joint Investigation Committee (JIT) in the Panama cases by the Supreme Court are striking. Whereas the JIT — whose members were reportedly appointed through a Whatsapp call from the Supreme Court’s Registrar — in the Panama proceedings did a one-sided hatchet job of ousting an elected prime minister through a dubious judicial process, the scrutiny committee in the PTI foreign funding case was under no such obligation to return a ‘guilty’ verdict against Imran Khan and the PTI.
Akbar S. Babar, by now quite accustomed to contesting and removing snags and unanticipated hurdles in his way, was not inclined to give up his epic fight. Although Babar and his lawyers had appended rudimentary information which they could get from sources accessible to public, it was the PTI lawyers who handed them with the veritable treasure trove of incriminating evidence.
After subjecting the ECP and the parties to exasperating delays seemingly to break their will, the reams of papers submitted by the PTI, which included letters, certificates, bank statements, banking papers showing wire transfers etc, was like signing the death warrant of the PTI and its elected members — if they don’t resign in case the Supreme Court eventually holds the party to be in breach of article 6 of the Political Parties Order 2002.
The joke in the Babar camp was that once the PTI lawyers felt they had tired down their opponents, they decided to burden them with thousands of pages in the hope that those would not be read. Babar and his lawyers read each and every document, laboriously piecing together the relevant evidence in a coherent order to establish that the PTI had received funding in breach of article 6. They were able to convince the ECP.
The joke in the Babar camp was that once the PTI lawyers felt they had tired down their opponents, they decided to burden them with thousands of pages in the hope that those would not be read. Babar and his lawyers read each and every document, laboriously piecing together the relevant evidence in a coherent order to establish that the PTI had received funding in breach of article 6.
The rationale behind prohibition of raising foreign funds by political parties is to keep parties out of the influence of foreign countries and companies who could expect to get their pound of flesh once the party returns as a winner in general elections. The issue in case of the PTI is not whether there were irrefutable corruption charges against Arif Naqvi in 2012 or not. No matter how entertaining the Wootton Cricket Club emails sent to the invitees were — laced with team names like Peshawar Perverts and Faisalabad Fothermuckers — the fact remains that accepting donation from a company registered in Cayman Island (in this case) is prohibited under the law.
When the matter eventually reaches the Supreme Court, it will once again find itself in the middle of a legal and constitutional controversy. Rightly blamed in the past for abetting the deep state in perpetuating its seven-decade-old stranglehold of the state and its resources, time has come for the Court to redeem itself, and put an end to judicialisation of politics.
Despite its current strength of 12 judges, the general public is under the impression that it comprises only three ubiquitous adjudicators, the chief justice and two other honourable judges. It is time to revisit the judgments of the past with embarrassingly disfigured jurisprudence to show for ourselves to the world. All politically-motivated matters should be heard by a full court, including the foreign funding case, petition lying in objection for adjudication on the issue of a lifetime ban currently faced by Nawaz Sharif, review petition against the Supreme Court’s ‘opinion’ on article 63-A of the cconstitution which attempts to rewrite the constitution and the petition challenging amendments to the NAB law, to name a few.
But then again I might be daydreaming.