ISLAMABAD: With all eyes on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) after its decision to hold hearing of the five-year-old foreign funding case against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on a daily basis from Nov 26, both the government and opposition parties have started accusing each other of trying to influence the outcome of the case.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan on Thursday through her official social media account on Twitter criticised the opposition’s Rehbar Committee for submitting an application asking the ECP to decide the case before the expiry of the chief election commissioner’s (CEC) term next month, and termed the opposition’s move a “despicable effort” to influence the ECP by making it “hostage”.

Responding to Dr Awan’s tweet, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, who is also a member of the Rehbar Committee, said they were not influencing the ECP but only demanding that the matter be decided as soon as possible. He alleged that it was the PTI which had been hindering the ECP from functioning freely under a strategy.

“Now we have understood why the PTI created obstacles in the way of an agreement on two ECP members’ appointment and now they are waiting for the CEC to retire so that they can raise the point that in the absence of three of its members, the ECP cannot function,” Mr Iqbal said, while speaking at a news conference with the party’s information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb at the National Press Club.

PM’s adviser terms Rehbar Committee’s move to approach ECP ‘despicable effort’; Ahsan Iqbal says PTI hindering commission from functioning freely

Challenging Prime Minister Imran Khan, Mr Iqbal said the nation wanted to know as to “who funded the PTI from within India, the Middle East and the United States”, alleging that the PTI had received funding from the anti-Pakistan forces which had “politically launched” Imran Khan to achieve their goals.

If there was nothing wrong in the case, he added, then why Mr Khan was not “providing money trail of the PTI’s foreign funding”. “Now the time has come when the nation is asking for receipts,” the PML-N leader declared.

At a time when the PML-N leaders were addressing the press conference, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, while talking to reporters in his hometown Dera Ismail Khan, also urged the CEC to decide the matter before his retirement. He also suggested that the tenure of the CEC should be extended to enable to him make a final decision in the case.

Ahsan Iqbal claimed that the State Bank of Pakistan had already identified 23 accounts of the PTI in the name of various party leaders which the party had concealed from the ECP and the public. He alleged that millions of dollars were transacted through these unreported accounts by luring innocent overseas Pakistanis in the name of donations.

“The nation needs to know who sent these mammoth funds. Was it legal and what were their motives of doing so and what trade-offs had been promised against these transactions,” he said, adding that the PTI members allegedly used these anonymous accounts for “undocumented personal use” for unknown purposes which raised a lot of critical and serious questions.

The PML-N leader taunted the prime minister by calling him “Mr Clean” and alleged that the PTI was involved in corruption although Imran Khan kept on accusing others of being corrupt. “You accuse others of [having] benami accounts. Now 23 benami accounts of the PTI have been unearthed. Why did you conceal these 23 accounts from the public?” he asked.

Demanding that the PTI foreign funding case be decided on an “emergent basis”, Mr Iqbal said the case was crucial to national sovereignty as it posed glaring questions regarding foreign influence on national policies.

Referring to the prime minister’s statement during his recent meeting with his ministers that there was nothing to worry about the foreign funding case, the PML-N leader wondered why Mr Khan had been submitting repeated requests to the ECP to keep the proceedings of the case secret. “If there is nothing to hide, then why has the appointment of the ECP members been delayed and why is Imran Khan trying to appoint blue-eyed members to these two positions unconstitutionally,” he asked.

Mr Iqbal regretted that government’s spokespersons had now started using their favourite “blame and divert tactic” by leveling similar allegations against the PLM-N. He claimed that his party had not a single undeclared or anonymous funding account and called for an open trial of the cases being faced by various PML-N leaders.

Earlier in the day, SAPM Dr Awan in a tweet said: “the Rehbar Committee themselves requires rehbari [guidance]. They are constantly presenting the chor machaye shor flop film show.”

She said the government was standing firm on its stance, adding: “Unlike others, we are not the ones to find an escape route from accountability.”

In another tweet, Dr Awan said Prime Minister Khan advocated accountability on the basis of the supremacy of the rule of the Constitution and without any discrimination. “The whole country is witness to whom the country’s highest court declared to be sadiq and ameen [honest and righteous] and who was declared to be dishonest,” she said in an apparent reference to the 2017 Supreme Court’s verdict in which Nawaz Sharif had been disqualified as prime minister.

On Wednesday, the ECP had ordered day-to-day hearing of the foreign funding case against the PTI from Nov 26. An ECP official disclosed that notices had also been issued to the counsel for the PML-N and PPP, asking them to appear before the commission’s scrutiny committee on the same day. Similar foreign funding cases against the PML-N and PPP had been filed by PTI lawmakers.

Meanwhile, PPP secretary general Nayyar Bukhari said in a statement that the impression that the ECP was investigating PPP’s financial affairs was false as the commission was instead hearing an application regarding the “transfer” of some money from a banned fund.

The application had been filed by PTI MNA from Faisalabad Farrukh Habib in 2017 and it was handed over to the committee handling the PTI’s foreign funding case in 2018.

Mr Bukhari claimed that Farrukh Habib himself was absent from hearings and was unable to provide any evidence against the PPP. Due to his absence on Nov 12, the hearing was postponed to Nov 26.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2019