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Tuesday, 18 June 2024
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Arrest of Imran Khan was illegal
HAROON RAFIQUE

The High Court stands at a crossroads, confronted with the pre-motivated, unprocedural, and non-maintainable decision of Judge Humayan Dilawer from the lower trial court, and the arrest of Imran Khan, deemed unlawful. In the case of Khawaja Asif's disqualification, the strict liability defense falters under the weight of conflicts of interest, materiality, design, and the nature of Mr. Asif's omissions on his nomination form and multiple tax returns. For thirty years, he has been deeply immersed in the realms of business and politics, a seasoned candidate with a record of being declared as returned candidate on multiple occasions.

The legal obligations outlined in Section 12 of the Act of 1976, pertaining to nomination procedures, ought not to be confounded with errors or omissions on an individual's tax returns. Section 111 of the Income Tax Ordinance offers no blanket immunity to any election candidate.

Concerning the jurisdiction of the High Court, Article 199(1) of the Constitution, at times, too widely and politically expediently applied, necessitates the exhaustion of alternative remedies before ordering the disqualification of a Federal or Provincial functionary. Article 199(1)(c) proclaims that any High Court order must align with the enforcement of Fundamental Rights as enshrined in Chapter 1 of Part II, rendering void any order inconsistent with those rights, including the right to a fair trial. The Act of 1976 governs the conduct of elections, and the Election Commission, established under Article 218, assumes the responsibility to safeguard against corrupt and illegal practices.

Khawaja Asif, elected to the NA 110 constituency in the general elections on 11/5/2013, took oath of office and joined the Cabinet on 8/6/2013. Upon becoming Minister of Defence on 27/11/13, his nomination paper, mandated by Section 12 of The Representations of Peoples Act 1976, should have included the declaration of his current business interests, assets, and liabilities. However, Khawaja Asif failed to furnish such crucial details.

Khawaja Asif's three separate employment contracts with the same UAE company, two of which coincided with his tenure as Finance and later Defence Minister of Pakistan, raise perplexing questions. A copy of the employment contract duly lodged with the Labor Department of the UAE Ministry sheds light on the nature of these arrangements, where he was an employee limited to 30 days of annual leave. The third contract, commencing on 31/5/2017, still during his tenure as Defence Minister, bears a logical impossibility, requiring him to work in the UAE while serving as a Management Consultant, with a substantial increase in monthly salary. The grant of a UAE residency visa, perplexingly describing him as a skilled labourer and "Concrete Mason and Shovel Operator Driver," further mystifies the situation.

The decision to disqualify Khawaja Asif, delivered on 26 April 2018, came just a week after his employer hurriedly provided a letter to the High Court, disputing his full-time employment status and asserting that he had no requirement to be present in the UAE. Additionally, Khawaja Asif's failure to declare his UAE bank account, despite the yearly statement requirement, and his unexplained restaurant venture in Abu Dhabi, coupled with unusually high remittances, intensify the veil of uncertainty.

For deliberate concealment of material facts over six years and false statements about foreign remittances in an earlier plea before the Election Tribunal, Khawaja Asif's disqualification was warranted under Article 62(1)(f). Such wilful non-disclosure and violation of his oath demanded the measure of disqualification.

As we ponder these complex provisions, let us heed the caution echoed by Hon. Mr. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, urging the resolution of ambiguities and impracticalities. Until these matters are addressed and remedied, none should cast blame.