To ban or not to ban?

Published August 4, 2022

THE ruling parties must take a pause before making a firm decision about where the political process will go after the PTI prohibited funding verdict. Already, the call for blood is ringing shrill and loud, pushing them towards a mistake that has been repeated too many times in our history.

The PTI must indeed be taken to task for breaking the law — there can be no question about that. However, a ban on the party and its leadership is not the answer. In fact, given how keen undemocratic forces are for new excuses to keep civilian leaders under their thumb, such a decision should be actively steered clear of.

Given the laissez-faire attitude of our ruling classes when it comes to rules and regulations, other parties are also likely to struggle if faced with a detailed scrutiny of their books.

Using the ECP’s verdict to enforce a ban on the PTI will, therefore, set a precedent for future leaders to be pulled down on the same pretext. It is important that our civilian leadership avoid setting themselves up in such a manner.

The grounds on which Nawaz Sharif, a thrice-elected prime minister, was barred from Pakistani politics were frivolous and unfair. Now the same sword hangs over the PTI’s head. But if it was wrong then for the courts to shut out a popular leader from the political process on flimsy grounds, it would also be wrong now for the government to repeat the same.

Time has shown that the only way leaders or parties can be ‘minus-ed’ from the political equation is if the voting public decides it has had enough of them. Gen Ayub tried otherwise and failed, as did Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Gen Zia after him. Even when the Supreme Court upheld Bhutto’s decision to ban Wali Khan’s National Awami Party, it re-emerged as the NDP, and later as the ANP.

Read: What does the ECP ruling mean for the PTI? Legal experts weigh in

The political leadership today should display some maturity and refuse to go down that futile path.

The PTI and Imran Khan must face penalties and fines, and any prohibited funds they received must be seized by the state. At the same time, the verdict barring Nawaz Sharif from participating in Pakistani politics must be revisited and reconsidered. The rest should be left to the political arena and the ballot box.

The PTI, which continues to act as if the law does not apply to it, faces a public reckoning, considering how frivolously it has attacked rival politicians and parties with insults like ‘foreign-funded agent’, ‘money launderer’, ‘cheat’ and ‘corrupt’. The party and its chairman, whose boastful narrative about their being the only entities concerned with accountability and transparency in Pakistan, now stand rudely exposed.

Their opponents can use that as ammunition to build a political case to take to the public, but they must trust the democratic process to have the final say.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2022

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