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RAWALPINDI: After getting relief from the Supreme Court (SC) with regards misdeclaring assets in his nomination papers during 2013 elections, Awami Muslim League (AML) President Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has started his campaign on a high note, with the slogan ‘catch me if you can’.

His opponents say the relaxation amounts to pre-poll rigging. “I said earlier as well that I will accept the Supreme Court’s decision, whether it is in my favour or not,” Mr Ahmed told Dawn.

He said he will be focusing on the elections in the coming days and will defeat the PML-N. He said he was sure the next government will be formed by PTI.

On the other hand, PML-N, PPP and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) leaders were critical of the court’s decision, arguing that two different decisions were given in the identical cases of Nawaz Sharif and Sheikh Rashid.

“The timing of the decision will have an effect on the poll results. The decision was on hold for 87 days and was given near the polls,” said former PML-N MNA Malik Shakil Awan.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Awan said Sheikh Rashid was granted relief by SC but not the people. He said the AML president had done nothing for the city or his constituency in the last 30 years while the PML-N has spent more than Rs12 billion in the area.

PPP City President Babar Jadoon told Dawn the courts should take decisions on merit.

“Nawaz Sharif is disqualified in one case and Sheikh Rashid is granted relief in a similar case. Two laws prevail in this country,” he said.

He added that the PPP was not favouring PML-N or Sheikh Rashid, but such decisions should not be made so close to the elections as they impact the whole process.

JI Rawalpindi spokesperson Malik Azam also said such decisions awarded so close to the elections have an impact on polling results.

“The decision will however not affect our policy and we will field honest candidates from the platform of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal,” he said.

Sheikh Rashid started his political career from student politics and formally entered politics when he became councillor in the Rawalpindi Municipal Corporation in 1980.

He became an MNA as an independent candidate in 1985. He joined PML-N in 1988 and won a National Assembly seat while defeating PPP candidate retired Gen Tikka Khan.

Mr Ahmed won a National Assembly seat again in 1990 and became the federal minister for manpower and overseas Pakistanis and then the minister of information. He won again in the 1994 elections from Rawalpindi and became part of the Nawaz Sharif-led opposition. He was implicated in the Kalashnikov case and was jailed during Benazir’s second term.

After the 1997 elections, he became the federal minister for information in the Nawaz Sharif cabinet.

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed made the headlines in international media regarding the controversy of the establishment of camps for Kashmir freedom fighters.

The military coup of Pervez Musharraf was a turning point in the political career of Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as he parted ways with Nawaz Sharif. In the 2002 elections, he became part of the two Musharraf-led governments of Zafaraullah Khan Jamali and Shaukat Aziz in which he served as minister for information and railways.

He was defeated for the first time in the 2008 elections which he lost to PML-N’s Javed Hashmi and in the by-polls to PML-N’s Malik Shakil Awan. He tried rejoining the PML-N but Nawaz Sharif would not have him back which is when he formed his own party AML.

He won the 2013 elections with help from PTI and he is being supported by the party in the upcoming elections as well.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2018