AS the pressure builds on his party in the foreign funding case, Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for an expanded public scrutiny of funds given to all political parties. Mr Khan made this statement in response to criticism by the opposition parties who have called on the ECP to conclude the case of the foreign funds allegedly received by the PTI. The matter has dragged on for over six years. While the PPP and PML-N have indicated they would accept Mr Khan’s challenge, the ECP has ruled out the option of a public hearing and has asked that “unnecessary comments” be avoided in this case.

In principle, the full disclosure of political finances received by parties and candidates during polls is a critical step towards increasing electoral transparency and accountability. In some countries, there are laws that require political parties to disclose the source and amount of funds received, while in others there is a cap on how much can be spent by a candidate. Such practices if followed would indeed strengthen the democratic process in Pakistan, where allegations of bribes and horse-trading mar every election. However, Mr Khan’s demand that the scrutiny be applied to other parties too is a tad hollow. His party’s source of foreign funds have been the subject of an investigation for over six years now — a period that has seen considerable foot-dragging by the PTI in the form of petitions challenging the ECP’s jurisdiction. In this context, where his party has fought tooth and nail against disclosure, his demand for across-the-board accountability reeks of double standards. Ironically, his view here is similar to the demands of the opposition parties, who have railed against a targeted witch-hunt at the hands of the PTI and NAB. The PPP and PML-N have repeatedly pointed out that the rules of accountability are different for the ruling party and the opposition. In contrast, Mr Khan has not only claimed the anti-corruption drive is independent, he has also consistently hit out at his rivals in the opposition for evading accountability and disrespecting the judicial process. For him to call for an expanded inquiry at a time when his party is in the dock will be seen as an attempt to deflect attention from the case. Perhaps it is time he held himself to rigorous standards of accountability, and came out with the facts regarding the PTI’s finances so that the foreign funding case can be put to rest.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2021

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