Khawaja Asif

The worries for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) are far from over. It seems that the season of disqualification of the members of Pakistan’s ruling party has not ended yet.

In a recent development, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) declared the foreign minister of Pakistan, Khawaja Asif, disqualified from holding public office for life. The decision came in response to an application filed by his political opponent Usman Dar claiming that Asif had concealed the fact that he held a United Arab Emirates work permit and he was drawing salary from a company based there.

A three-member bench of the IHC disqualified Asif under Article 62(1) (f) of the constitution for not disclosing his employment in a UAE company and the monthly salary he was drawing.

The disqualification of Asif, a stalwart of PML-N, is a great blow to the ruling party as he is considered a close aide and anti-establishment leader in the ranks of the party. The legal fraternity is divided on the recent judgment; while one section of lawyers is endorsing this decision, the other is strongly criticizing it and terming it a victimization of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his party.

Public opinion is also divided. Supporters of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party are celebrating it, while supporters of PML-N are terming this decision as biased.

By law every elected representative in Pakistan has to file an affidavit with the Election Commission while submitting papers for contesting elections that he or she will not indulge in any work or will not take any other job during the tenure of his or her membership of a provincial or national assembly.

Thus the recent court verdict to disqualify Asif seems correct, as he was found to be working for a foreign company. The question that arises, however, is whether Asif is the only elected politician who holds a work permit or who has another source of income. The answer to this is of course a big no. Many elected representatives possess work permits or have indirect businesses and jobs, so only targeting Asif validates the narrative of the ruling party that it has been victimized in the name of accountability.

The constitution of Pakistan also does not allow any government servant or government institution to indulge in any form of business venture or jobs, but several senior officers of the bureaucracy, judiciary and military are engaged in various profit-making ventures and jobs.

In recent remarks, IHC Justice Shaukat Siddiqi pointed this out by saying that the armed institutions in Pakistan were running businesses in dairy and meat products. The list of profitable ventures of military people is long, ranging from selling food items to running housing schemes, banks and financial institutions – the military has created one of the largest business empires in the country.

On the floor of the National Assembly in 2006, Asif pointed to this and reminded the military establishment to return to its duty of protecting the borders. Since then he has been disliked in the circles of the defense establishment.

Being a close aide to Sharif, he was first made defense minister and then was named foreign minister. His nomination as foreign minister was never liked by the mighty military establishment as it has always enjoyed hegemony on foreign policy and a blunt and uncompromising foreign minister was threat to their control over the foreign affairs.

So all in all, the High Court’s decision did not come as a surprise for many informed persons, as refusing to be dictated to and being vocal about civilian authority is not acceptable to the powerful military-judiciary nexus in Pakistan.

In fact the dispute between PML-N and the establishment started on the narrative of foreign policy, as Nawaz Sharif wanted to end hostile policies toward neighboring countries. Asif was vocal and very blunt in accepting that Pakistan had made mistakes on the foreign and security policy fronts.

The other notable thing about the court decision is its timing, It was announced at a time when Asif was representing Pakistan in China in a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Still, while we can raise many objections about the court’s decision, the fact remains that Asif should have surrendered his work permit and left his job when he was awarded the portfolios of Defense and Foreign Affairs. All his life Asif has been a very vocal political activist and leader who always talked about setting high moral grounds. If he cannot set high moral grounds for himself, how he can expect his opponents to be moral and ethical?

Negative global impression

The decision to disqualify Asif has also created a negative impression of Pakistan around the world, as major news outlets ran headlines that the country’s foreign minister had been disqualified by the court for hiding information about his sources of income. The ongoing fight between PML-N and the state institutions is damaging the credibility of Pakistan and is also weakening the foundation of the state. It does not matter who wins this battle, the ultimate loser seems to be the state itself, as all three institutions, parliament, judiciary and military, are the pillars of the state, and if any one of them is weakened it is an irreparable loss for the state as a whole.

On the political front it is a great loss to Sharif, as Asif had influence in central Punjab’s constituency politics and many of the candidates from the Sialkot division were given National Assembly tickets on his consent. His ouster from politics has left a void that could result in defections from the Sialkot division as many of the electable candidates will fear the same fate if they continue to side with Sharif and his narrative.

Imran Khan, the main opponent of Sharif, has gained political mileage from Asif’s disqualification and he can convince his vote bank that it was his efforts that resulted in the demise of another stalwart of the ruling party.

The spin wizards from the camps of both Sharif and Imran Khan will try to gain advantage from this decision. Khan’s camp will portray itself as a winner, while Sharif’s camp will play the victimization card in order to gain the sympathy of its vote bank. But the damage done to the credibility of Pakistan is the point that needs to be addressed, and it can only be addressed if the institutions of the state instead of locking horns with one another work in harmony for the betterment and progress of the country.

Shaming and humiliating elected representatives by the establishment and judiciary or criticism from elected representatives of the judiciary and military establishments will not bring any solution to the problems – in fact it will further deteriorate the image of the state in the global community.

At the same time it needs to be understood that being a stakeholder does not allow the military establishment and the judiciary to run the affairs of state according their own understanding and wisdom. The state belongs to the people, and the people elect their representatives to run the affairs of state – they are not elected to get humiliated by the judiciary or the establishment.

It seems that Article 62(1) (f) is a new weapon to oust elected representatives that are disliked by the undemocratic forces. Gone are the days when the 111th Infantry Brigade was used to oust governments. It is Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s “sadiq and ameen” (the requirement to be “honest and righteous” he inserted in the constitution) weapon that is yielding the desired results without imposing martial law.

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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