ARE we witnessing the fall of Icarus, the figure from Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun and perished?

The ECP verdict announced yesterday on the foreign funding case leaves former prime minister Imran Khan — and his political party — confronting what is arguably his most serious challenge to date. At the very least, Mr Khan’s core narrative about accountability and transparency upon which he has based his politics, has been seriously dented, if not eviscerated.

The unanimous judgement by the three-member ECP bench ruled that “PTI knowingly and wilfully received donations” from sources “hit by prohibition and in violation of Pakistani laws” and issued a show-cause notice to the party asking why the funds should not be confiscated.

Read: No immediate threat to PTI despite prohibited funding ruling

Among the illegal sources of funds were 43 foreign nationals and 351 foreign-based companies, whose names and contributions are listed in the verdict.

The document is also a devastating indictment of the extent to which the PTI went to obfuscate the truth and cover its tracks.

It “accepted ownership” of eight accounts, “disowned” 13 — which, the ECP found, were all opened and operated by senior PTI management and leadership — and “failed to mention” three, also operated by the party leadership.

Perhaps most damaging, the commission ruled that Mr Khan had each year, for five years running, signed off on a “grossly inaccurate” Form-I to declare that no prohibited funds were received by the party and that the accompanying statement reflected its accurate financial position.

In a country where the apex court bundled an elected prime minister out of office on flimsy grounds within eight months of beginning a corruption inquiry against him, it says much that the PTI managed to delay proceedings in the case for eight long years.

It was in November 2014 that one of the PTI’s founders, Akbar S. Babar, filed a complaint with the ECP alleging corruption and embezzlement in matters pertaining to the party’s funds. PTI subsequently resorted to various tactics to buy time — seeking repeated adjournments, dragging its feet on submitting details of party accounts, and filing multiple applications for secrecy of the scrutiny process and seeking to circumscribe it.

The party that demanded unimpeachable integrity from all others in the political arena was seemingly loath to have any light cast on its fundraising activities.

Editorial: Imran vs the CEC

Meanwhile, the years-long delay allowed the PTI leadership to build a narrative positioning itself as the victim of a ‘biased’ ECP — an increasingly far-fetched claim given the party’s sweeping victory in the Punjab by-polls — in an effort to pressure the electoral body and discredit its verdict.

Now the PTI must wait to see how the federal government takes the matter forward, while it does all it can to appeal to the court of public opinion. It is difficult to predict how this pitch will play, given that in Pakistan the game isn’t always played by the rules.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2022

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