EDITORIAL: The Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM’s) rally before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) offices in Islamabad on January 19, 2021 was notable for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the turnout was less than impressive. This may partly be attributed to the absence of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who excused himself for having prior commitments in Sindh. His absence resulted in a thin appearance of the PPP supporters, thus requiring the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice president Maryam Nawaz and the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to carry a heavier burden at the rally. Fiery speeches by these two opposition leaders castigated Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government on the foreign funding case that has remained in the doldrums with the ECP for the last seven years. Not just this, in a reversal of the ‘patriot’ card much in vogue with the government these days, the PDM leaders accused Imran Khan of receiving funding from India and Israel. In the opposition’s first show in Islamabad, the PDM demanded the ECP decide the foreign funding case against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) immediately when there appeared no cogent reason why the case had been dragged along for so long. Maryam Nawaz found laughable Imran Khan’s defence offered the other day that he had no knowledge of the source of funding for PTI and the party’s two ‘agents’ abroad had this information. In a play on words, she asked: “Who were the agents who had installed Imran Khan in power?” She also recalled former Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar’s clean chit to Imran Khan as ‘sadiq and ameen’ (honest) by blaming the ‘agents’ again who helped obtain this certificate. She went on to describe the PTI foreign funding case as the biggest fraud in Pakistan’s history. Recalling the track record, she said cases against Nawaz Sharif were expedited to have him disqualified and condemned, but the ECP had only held 70 hearings in the case in seven years. She underlined Imran Khan’s efforts, legal and other, to have the proceedings halted on the basis that the case did not fall under the purview of the ECP, and/or to keep the proceedings secret. Further, she said the scrutiny committee set up by the ECP could not complete its investigations despite the passage of three years. The State Bank of Pakistan, Maryam alleged, had discovered 23 secret accounts of the PTI operated under Imran Khan’s signature. Lastly, she asked the ECP why, when its ‘hands and feet were tied’ during the 2018 elections, did it not speak out.
The PDM’s fire and brimstone thrown at Imran Khan did not seem to have fazed the government, which wisely had allowed the PDM rally without hindrance. Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid and other ministers predictably described the rally as a ‘flop’. The usual (and by now wearying) rhetoric on both sides notwithstanding, the questions raised at the PDM rally deserve a fitting response. If, however, the ECP’s statement in response to the rally is perused, it seems more of a mea culpa than a credible explanation for the extraordinary delay in concluding the case. The ECP has more and more to answer for with each passing day, even if the controversial 2018 elections are put aside for the moment. The PTI funding case and that election have eroded the image and credibility of the ECP near to breaking point. In another twist to this saga, while the PDM was protesting outside the ECP offices, the ECP scrutiny committee, according to media reports, walked out while conducting hearing on the matter when the complainant Akbar Babar voiced no confidence in the committee after telling Babar “you don’t trust us so there is no point in our sitting here and hearing this case anymore”. In its own interest, as much as the interests of transparency, democracy and the country, the ECP needs to decide the foreign funding case post haste. If it manages this at least, there may be room for allowing the present ECP setup to conduct the upcoming Senate and local elections. If not, not only these elections, arguably the next general elections scheduled for 2023 will come under a cloud and could provoke a legitimacy and political crisis of unimaginable proportions.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021