FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 12

Foreign funding case to boomerang?

The opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDM) has focused on a foreign funding case against Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) after its public rallies started losing steam. They accuse the ruling party of receiving funds from Indians and Israelis while the government claims it has proof of the opposition parties receiving money from abroad. Though the foreign funding case is of political nature, yet it may harm the opposition more than the ruling party, because it has more resources at its disposal.

Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared to be highly confident of the outcome of the case when he called for an open trial in the case and challenged the leadership of all opposition 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. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said that its scrutiny committee enjoyed the power and status of a joint investigation team (JIT) and it could not hold open hearings in the foreign funding cases. “The committee will face difficulties in proceeding with the case if it happens,” the ECP said in a statement. It, however, said the commission would hold an open hearing in the case after receiving recommendations from the scrutiny committee, which would be shared with the parties.

The case was lodged by a disgruntled member of the PTI in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in November 2014, and it has not been decided for more than six years. 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.

In a bid to pressure on the government, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) protested outside the ECP for an immediate decision on the case against the ruling party and accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of receiving funds from Israel and India to topple the previous government of the PML-N. “Imran Khan received funds from India and Israel. The funds came in the name of his servants through Hundi and not through banking channels,” PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz alleged. She claimed the funds from India had come from Bharatiya Janata Party member Inder Dosanjh and Barry C. Schneps from Israel. PDM Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman accused Imran Khan of being a “Jews’ agent” and claimed the foreign funding case had substantiated it.

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 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.

It appears the opposition is trying to flog a dead horse in the foreign funding case. 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.

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 ministers, the PML-N also received funds from some Arab states and used party funds for money laundering. Addressing a press conference, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid warned the PML-N that the much-publicised probe in the foreign funding case could prove to be a “second Panama Leaks” for it and would lead to unearthing of more financial scandals of its leaders.

It is clear that the foreign funding case cannot harm the PTI or its government. However, it is not sure about the opposition and its leaders. Some retired army officers claim PDM head Fazlur Rehman has received funds from Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies to create unrest in Pakistan through protests. PTI ministers also claim the government has proof of Fazl receiving funds from Arab states. They also accuse him of money laundering. They say it is why he and his party were bitterly against FATF legislation and he started a movement against the government after their failure to block the law.