• IHC judge says creating hurdles to meetings over party tickets brings caretaker govt’s ‘impartiality’ into question
• Says deliberations on award of tickets is basic right; huddles to be held under jail superintendent’s watch
• Gohar assails rivals over remarks on PHC ruling, asks them to respect judiciary

By and

ISLAMABAD: Allowing erstwhile PTI chairman Barrister Gohar Ali Khan and others to hold talks with party founder Imran Khan in Adiala Jail about award of PTI tickets to aspirants for the Feb 8 elections, an Islamabad High Court (IHC) judge observed that creating impediments to such meetings raised questions about the impartiality of the caretaker government.

Hearing a petition filed by Barrister Gohar through advocate Shuaib Shaeen, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb remarked on Friday that the caretaker government should remain neutral and should not take such steps that would derail the election process.

During the course of arguments, the court was informed that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had issued the schedule for the upcoming elections and members of PTI’s core committee require frequent meetings with Imran Khan for selection of candidates and award of tickets for the constituencies of national and provincial assemblies across the country.

The counsel urged the court to grant permission to Barrister Gohar, Hamid Khan, Shadab Jafferi, Shuaib Shaheen and Intizar Panjhuta to meet Imran Khan.

After an initial hearing, Justice Aurangzeb issued notices to the jail superintendent.

Islamabad Advocate General Ayyaz Shaukat and Additional Attorney General Munawar Iqbal Duggal opposed the request.

The court observed, “These two gentlemen hold brief for a caretaker government, which is expected to be impartial in the process leading up to the elections. Creating impediments in the meeting between the former and the present chairman of a political party on a matter as to the award of the tickets is a serious question mark on such impartiality.”

Justice Aurangzeb further observed that “it ought to be realised that the status of the former chairman PTI with whom the petitioner wants to confer is that of an under-trial prisoner. The sentence awarded to him in one case has been suspended by this court.”

The court also noted that deliberations on award of tickets to the candidates “is a matter of a fundamental right enshrined in Article 17 of the constitution, which is to take precedence over any of the jail rules”.

The court allowed Imran Khan’s meetings with the chairman and members of the PTI’s core committee and stated that “such meetings shall be under the supervision of the superintendent Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi on such days and for such periods as he may reasonably determine”.

It may be mentioned that a similar petition was filed by PTI leader Sher Afzal Marwat. However, he was seeking permission for Asad Qaiser and 13 members of the party to meet Imran Khan. That petition could not be taken up since the registrar office had raised administrative objections.

Gohar assails opponents

Later, Barrister Gohar assailed political opponents for allegedly attacking the judiciary, instead of accepting its decisions or adopting a legal course. He alleged that it was their history to attack the courts.

He went on to warn that if elections were not held in a free and fair manner, economy would suffer further. He pointed out that restraining the aspirants from filing their nominations or getting their forms rejected through returning officers did not happen in a free and fair election.

He asked the opponents to respect the judiciary, adding that the Peshawar High Court’s decision to restore ‘bat’ as PTI’s election symbol was in accordance with the aspirations of the people of Pakistan.

“Those making hue and cry over the PHC’s ruling regarding the PTI’s electoral symbol are scared to face the nation,” Barrister Khan said, adding, “They were hatching conspiracies to deprive the PTI of its iconic electoral symbol and even to oust the PTI from the electoral race.”

Mr Gohar was addressing a news conference at the National Press Club along with PTI leader Sardar Latif Khan Khosa, Shuaib Shaheen and Mr Panjhuta.

He regretted that the PHC’s verdict was criticised by several political leaders, including JUI-F emir Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif.

“These political parties were attacking the judiciary after the PHC suspended the ECP’s decision,” he said, adding that political leaders, whose defeat were imminent, were trying to make the PHC’s decision controversial.

It may be recalled that the ECP had on Dec 22 stripped the PTI of its symbol and voided its intra-party elections.

Barrister Gohar said the Supreme Court had settled that snatching of electoral symbol is equivalent to dissolving a political party and this right only lies with the apex court according to Article 17 of the constitution.

Mr Gohar said he was a representative of Imran Khan, who “was, is and will always remain our leader” irrespective wherever he was.

He claimed that the highest number of nomination papers had been filed by PTI candidates. “If you take away our electoral symbol, will all of these candidates contest as independents? If this happens, who will be responsible for horse trading after the polls?” Barrister Khan asked.

“We have filed petitions in the ECP against snatching of nomination papers of our candidates and detention of their seconders and proposers,” he pointed out.

He said judiciary should take notice of these unlawful and unconstitutional measures at the earliest because of the attempts aimed at pushing the PTI out of the election process.

He also requested the judiciary to look into the issue of the maltreatment meted out to PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the hands of the authorities.

Mr Khosa lashed out at PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, calling him a “fugitive” who has been facilitated from his departure at Heathrow Airport to his landing at Islamabad airport.

“On one hand, Imran Khan was called for biometrics and arrested in the high court room, on the other a biometric machine was delivered to the airport for an ineligible person,” he said, referring to Nawaz Sharif.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2023

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