PESHAWAR: Facing a legal battle over his eligibility just three days after he took oath as governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Shaukatullah Khan vowed on Wednesday to defend his appointment.
Mr Khan, who quit as federal minister and also his seat in the lower house of parliament to become the governor, was immediately caught in a controversy when it was pointed out that under the 18th Amendment a person could become the constitutional head of a province only if he was a registered voter and resident of that province.
While the former parliamentarian from Bajaur is known to have a residence, both ancestral and personal, in Peshawar, questions were raised if he was a registered voter in the province.
“I am not a kid. I must have read the Constitution before taking oath of office. I must have done my homework,” Mr Khan told Dawn. “All that is being said about my eligibility is not correct.”
On Wednesday, uncorroborated reports were doing the rounds that Mr Khan got himself registered as a voter in Hayatabad to fend off a looming legal battle, hours before a constitutional writ petition was filed in Peshawar High Court challenging his appointment as governor.
“This is not true,” the governor said. He said ECP rules allowed a citizen to enrol and register himself as a voter any time.
Legal experts said ECP’s electoral roll was based on Nadra database and CNICs and that while dual votes had been eliminated, corrections could be made if a person was shown to have his vote registered at some other place.
Asked if it was correct that he had got himself registered as a voter in Peshawar’s posh residential locality on Wednesday, he said this could be done anytime. “There is no bar,” he stressed, but hastened to add that “everything will come out in the open”.
When reminded that any lateral registration would not have retrospective effect, the governor said he would prove his detractors wrong by unveiling all facts.
He said he had been sounded on his proposed appointment as governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Jan 30 in the last cabinet meeting. “So there was ample time for me to read the Constitution and know all issues pertaining to the office.”
The governor said the constitutional amendment made in Article 101 had not taken into account the peculiar congruity of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.
Under the Constitution, he said, Fata was the prime responsibility of the governor of the province and, therefore, it was unfair to the people of the tribal agencies if they were made ineligible to become the region’s constitutional figurehead.
“I would like this issue to be settled,” he said, adding that the muck had been spread by some “jealous friends”.
He insisted that he was politically independent and he and his family had no political leanings. “Time will prove that we shall remain independent.”
The governor insisted that it was his performance as federal minister for two years which must have won him the coveted post and that his predecessor had been removed due to his poor health.
But sources said the replacement of a veteran PPP leader, Barrister Masood Kausar, had been in the works for six months. Among the reasons being cited for the replacement of the octogenarian PPP leader were his being “too friendly” with the ANP, the ruling party in the province, to the discomfort of increasingly assertive PPP leaders there, and his handling of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the proverbial last straw being that of a protest demonstration by Bara residents outside Governor’s House.
There is little surprise that the president who enjoyed cordial relations with ANP leaders did not bother to consult them while belligerent statements were made by PPP’s provincial chief Anwar Saifullah Khan.
Several names, the sources said, had been under consideration, including those of former governor Lt Gen Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah and former ISI chief Lt Gen Ehsanul Haq.
But that President Zardari chose Shaukatullah took many by surprise, including some Fata parliamentarians.