‘This is Pakistan’: Lawyers, journalists react to ECP’s ‘silly, ridiculous’ verdict against Imran Khan

"If you can't beat him, disqualify him," quips journalist Cyril Almeida.
Published October 21, 2022

In another political upheaval — a series of which the country has been witnessing since the start of this year — the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday announced its verdict in the Toshakhana reference against PTI chief Imran Khan, disqualifying the former premier under Article 63-1(p) of the Constitution.

According to the written verdict, the ECP has disqualified Imran under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution, read with Sections 137 (submission of statement of assets and liabilities), 167 (corrupt practice) and 173 (making or publishing a false statement or declaration) of the Elections Act 2017. Meanwhile, the ECP also directed for legal action to be initiated against Imran under Section 190 (2) (proceedings against a person for being involved in corrupt or illegal practice) of the Elections Act 2017.

The verdict came on the back of months of court proceedings and later, a reference filed by the Shehbaz Sharif-led government in the ECP in August, earlier this year.

Read more: Imran Khan disqualified in Toshakhana reference

While the details of the verdict remain ambiguous as the complete written order has yet to be released, the announcement sent ripples across the legal and political circles of the country, evoking a strong response from all quarters.

‘Silly’ verdict

Lawyer Asad Rahim Khan said while it was too soon to comment on the verdict, given the ECP’s reasoning was yet to be revealed, it was “nonetheless a silly verdict”.

“It would be premature to comment without reading the order, given the current ambiguity around what provision Mr Khan was disqualified under,” said Asad.

“It is nonetheless a silly verdict — it would have been rendered meaningless under Article 62(1)(f), as the ECP isn’t a court of law. Left to the even more limited parameters of Article 63, the ECP’s decision can only be justified as part of the absurd sequence of events this country has seen since March, rather than any concrete reasoning of law.”

‘A joke’

Political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi termed Imran’s disqualification “a joke … Just like the 2017 disqualification of Nawaz Sharif.”

The comeback of Articles 62, 63

According to lawyer Mirza Moiz Baig, “the contours of Articles 62 and 63 have once again dominated headlines with Imran’s disqualification.

“With the PTI Chairman likely to challenge this decision before the Islamabad High Court, it would be interesting to see how the high court proceeds with this challenge, considering its recent dismissal of Faisal Vawda’s appeal against his disqualification and concerns regarding the restraint shown by the Islamabad High Court during the contempt proceedings against Imran Khan.

“Will this dispute make its way to the Supreme Court where CJP Bandial has already expressed his doubts about the efficacy of provisions relating to disqualification, notwithstanding the fact that he is the author of the judgment that declared that a disqualification under 62(1)(f) couldn’t be cured by efflux of time?” he questioned.

“Will the court apply the same legal standard that it applied to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the PTI Chief? More critically, will the PDM government use this verdict to approach a ‘court’ in terms of Article 62(1)(f) and seek a life time disqualification of the PTI Chief?

“While the fate of Imran Khan’s legal challenges may not be known, one thing is clear: the more things change, the more they remain the same!”

‘Maybe it will stick?’

Journalist Cyril Almeida quipped in his usual succinct style. “If you can’t beat him, disqualify him…”

Lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii said that while a detailed legal comment could only follow once the entire order was public, “this is once more an example of the political sun shining upon Imran Khan’s opponents, and the powers that help justice get done in this country doing what they do best — trying out something new. Let’s wait for the order and see how it explains the ridiculous, but ‘maybe it will stick’ is the best possible rationale at play here.

“It seems everyone suddenly has a job to do. Everyone who could have done their jobs in 2018 and fulfilled their constitutional duty to the people is now bending over backwards doing the unprecedented, hoping it will make up for their earlier inaction.

“Even in the realm of optics, away from justice, this cuts a sorry picture.

“Here stands a man disqualified for selling gifts or not declaring them. In a country where unelected public servants fly around the world in private planes, with no way of the public seeing the accounting for their plane’s fuel, let alone what they were given as gifts. They then retire to lives of immense privilege, all carved out from the state.

“Those that retired before they felt ready, take out a prime minister with them and then proceed to become public servants abroad.

“This is Pakistan. Where necklaces given by the wives of foreign dignitaries for flood relief have ended up adorning the necks of our First Ladies. Where chief justices retire and don’t return their Mercedes. Where generals declare purchases of duty free Land Cruisers for three million rupees.”

‘Lenient punishment’

Former ECP secretary, Kanwar Dilshad, termed the a “lenient punishment” for Imran, saying the PTI chief had been disqualified for the rest of the assembly term, which was a mere eight months.

“The ECP verdict mentions the disqualification period ‘for the time being’, which implies, in my view, that the former PM has been disqualified till this parliament is functioning,” he told DawnNewsTV.

He said it was not clear whether the current assembly would continue till March or August. Dilshad said the ECP decision will not harm Imran as he had already resigned from the assembly.

He noted that the criticism of the PTI and its chief against the ECP “makes no sense” in the wake of the Toshakhana case decision.