ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan on Thursday sought an end to “political engineering”, calling for giving people the freedom to vote and stressing that the alleged involvement of certain institutions in politics has led to a significant breakdown in the country’s governance.

Mr Khan’s remarks came after his appearance in court in Adiala Jail concerning the Toshakhana and £190 million corruption cases filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The Supreme Court, in a previous ruling while granting bail to former minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, had observed that NAB was used for political engineering and pressuring politicians. Mr Rafique and his brother were arrested in December 2018, during Mr Khan’s tenure as prime minister.

Talking to media persons, Mr Khan acknowledged the limitations of politicians in the face of “establishment control” but said he was ready for dialogue with politicians to ensure free and fair elections.

However, the PTI founder ruled out the possibility of supporting the Pakistan Peoples Party before or after the Feb 8 elections, saying, “We will not align with PPP because they are also beneficiaries of the system.”

Mr Khan rejected the results of a recent survey showing PML-N as the leading political party, insisting that such surveys reflected public despair.

“They imposed Section 144 (an emergency law that prohibits gatherings) after we announced a massive show of power in all constituencies,” Mr Khan said, adding that police had started raiding the houses of PTI candidates and booking them in “frivolous cases”.

Indictment deferred

Meanwhile, an accountability court deferred the indictment of Mr Khan and his wife, Bushra Bibi, in the £190m corruption case until Tuesday.

Mr Khan’s counsel, Barrister Salman Safdar, suggested that while half of Mr Khan’s legal team was preoccupied with upcoming elections, the proceeding might be postponed until after the Feb 8 elections.

Mr Khan told Judge Mohammad Bashir that the cases were being expedited to convict him before the polls.

“You have adjourned hearings in the Toshakhana reference against Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari until Feb 13. Why can’t my case related to Toshakhana gifts be adjourned till this date?” Mr Khan asked the judge, alleging that both politicians were apparently being given special treatment.

The ex-PM even proposed a joint hearing of both Toshakhana references from Feb 13.

The court session witnessed tension as the jail administration pushed the media persons about 50 feet away from the rostrum, prompting complaints from reporters that they couldn’t hear the arguments and the judge’s remarks.

Mr Khan’s counsel requested the installation of speakers for better audibility, while the judge noted Bushra Bibi’s absence and sought a report from jail authorities.

When the judge asked Mr Khan about Bushra Bibi’s whereabouts, he replied: “I am detained, have no means of communication, and cannot telephone her. How can I know why she didn’t come?”

Barrister Safdar requested the court for an adjournment and the judge set the next hearing for Jan 30.

May 9 indictment

In another legal matter, the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) of Rawalpindi scheduled the indictment of Mr Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi for Feb 6 in connection with the May 9 violent protests.

ATC Judge Malik Ijaz conducted the proceeding in the case at Adiala Jail.

During the hearing, the police filed challans related to May 9 cases against the PTI leaders, including attacks on the army’s headquarters GHQ and other offices.

The judge extended the judicial remand for a fortnight and decided to indict them on the next hearing on Feb 6.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2024

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