FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 23

Can Imran Khan, his party be banned?

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan fears his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party could be banned under a conspiracy for allegedly receiving illegal foreign funds. It is obvious that the PTI was neither created abroad nor funded by any foreign government or party. If it is still banned, it will be disastrous for Pakistan and democracy.

Imran Khan and the PTI are immensely popular among overseas Pakistanis and they whole-heartedly donate to his hospital and party. However, the then opposition, which is in the government now, accused the PTI of receiving funds from Indians and Israelis while Imran Khan claims he has proof of the former opposition parties and leaders receiving money from abroad and their involvement in money laundering. Under a court ruling, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will decide the PTI’s foreign funding case in a month. It would have been better if the similar cases against all opposition parties, which are now a part of the coalition government, should have been heard and decided simultaneously.

Despite his apprehensions about the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Imran Khan still appears to be highly confident of the outcome of the case when he called for an open trial of the case and challenged the leadership of all parties to face the proceedings too. He challenged that all parties’ funds should be made public and the PTI would emerge the only political party to come clean.

The case was lodged by a disgruntled member of the PTI in November 2014, apparently at the behest of the then opposition parties. In a tit-for-tat move, the PTI also filed a petition in the ECP, accusing the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of receiving illegal funds from the US and the UK, and using party funds to launder money.

The provisions of the Article 6(3) of the Political Parties Act, 2002, state, “Any contribution made, directly or indirectly, by any foreign government, multi-national or domestically incorporated public or private company, firm, trade or professional association shall be prohibited and the parties may accept contributions and donations only from individuals”. Under the law, maximum punishment is the confiscation of the prohibited proceeds. Also, matters pertaining to foreign funding do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) at least as far as probes are concerned, law experts say. According to the Article-17(2) of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, the federal government is mandated with making references on foreign funding and forwarding them to the Supreme Court of Pakistan within 15 days, which will decide them.

The PTI has been accused of having received funds from foreign individuals. However, according to the law, there was no bar on individuals donating funds to a political party. Interestingly, there was no allegation that the PTI had received funds from any other state institution or agency. The Election Act, 2017 would also not be applicable to the PTI because the party accounts being scrutinised pertain to the year preceding 2013.

In fact, the case has already been decided by the Supreme Court of Pakistan when it discussed in detail the question of foreign funding in its 2017 judgment on a petition filed by PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi, who had sought disqualification of Imran Khan. In its judgment, the court had noted that it was not the case that the PTI was formed or organised at the instance of any government or political party of a foreign country or was affiliated to or associated with any government or political party of a foreign country, or received any aid, financial or otherwise, from any government or political party of a foreign country. The court had declared that any contribution or donation which was prohibited under the law shall be confiscated in favour of the state in the manner as may be prescribed. So, the PTI will remain unhurt even if it has received illegal funds from individuals.

In the past, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his party were also accused by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of receiving funds from Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden to topple her government. According to PTI leaders, the PML-N also received funds from some Arab states and used party funds for money laundering. They claim the much-publicised probe in the foreign funding case could prove to be a “second Panama Leaks” for the PML-N and would lead to unearthing of more financial scandals of its leaders.

It is clear that the foreign funding case cannot harm the PTI. However, it is not sure about other parties and its leaders. In the current situation, when Imran Khan is riding on a popular wave after his ouster from power through a no-confidence motion, it will be difficult to ban his party even if the party has received illegal funds. The common people will not accept it. It will also create a serious law and order situation in Pakistan. Last year, the whole country faced chaos when the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) was banned. Besides dozens of religious activists, at least six policemen also died in clashes. The same situation could arise if an adverse action is taken against Imran Khan and his party.