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A Season for Change

Is PM Imran Khan about to discover what a fickle mistress political power is?

Is PM Imran Khan about to discover what a fickle mistress political power is?

As Islamabad sheds its green summer livery for its glorious yellow and ochre autumn garb, the country’s politics also looks set to transition to a new season. There are clues aplenty that the recent faceoff between Prime Minister Imran Khan and the military chief over the appointment of Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is going to be a watershed moment for Mr Khan and his cohorts.

The going has been easy and things hunky-dory for the Khan-led political dispensation up until now, already past the halfway mark of its constitutionally mandated term, with the media giving the government a free pass and the judiciary taking a placid view of several cases against key government figures including Khan himself.

All that, however, is set to change now.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government has effectively defanged the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) by bringing in a Presidential Ordinance that bars the feared watchdog from going after top public functionaries – at least for the time being.

Interestingly, some opposition lawmakers are also string to exact some benefit from the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), opposed by their parties as a new NRO – in a reference to the notorious Musharraf era law instituted to drop criminal charges against scores of co-opted politicians from the PPP and MQM parties ahead of the 2008 General Election.

However, it appears that top political leadership might not be getting benefit from this so called NRO since Prime Minister Imran Khan is facing a case of attacking Parliament House in the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) of Islamabad, registered against him under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

Besides Mr Khan, all the leadership of the PTI including incumbent President Dr Arif Alvi had been nominated as accused in this case in the First Information Report (FIR) registered in Sept 2014 during PTI’s sit-in at the Constitution Avenue.

He was though probed under the NAO in couple of cases in the past including for utilizing official helicopter of KP government. However, the inquiries were scrapped before these were upgraded into the investigation.

A serious case, which may have consequences for Mr Khan and the entire PTI is the foreign funding case.

The foreign funding case against the PTI has dragged on for years. The case pertains to a complaint by Akbar S. Babar, one of the founding members of the PTI, in which he has accused the party of acquiring illegal funding.

The case is being heard by the Election Commission of Pakistan which is the relevant authority to decide whether the PTI stands guilty as charged. The ECP had appointed a scrutiny committee to go over all the relevant documents and determine if the case could actually be proved against the PTI.

The cases against the leadership of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) including former President Asif Ali Zardari are said to fall within the ambit of the amended ordinance. In fact, PPP’s legal wizard Farooq H Naek has already started filing application before the accountability courts for transfer of the pending trial to the courts of competent jurisdiction.

However, PML-N stalwarts like Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal appear to be less interested in getting benefit of the new law, although they may yet benefit from the amended provisions.

However, the new law offers no reprieve to the PML-N’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif.

On the other hand, the amendment has toughened the definition of “Assets” that was the reason for Mr Sharif’s ouster from the office of the Prime Minister, his disqualification and ultimately his conviction.

In the coming month, NAB is expected to step up its fight against Mr Sharif’s acquittal in the Flagship reference.

It may be mentioned that the Supreme Court hearing the Panama Papers case constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and upon receipt of the JIT’s report, disqualified Mr Sharif from holding public office and ordered NAB to file three references against Sharif family.

Mr Sharif was convicted in Avenfield Apartment and Al-Azizia references. He was however acquitted in the Flagship Investment reference.

Likewise, the President PML-N Shahbaz Sharif is also facing the cases related to his assets and against his administrative decisions. Since, he has always shown allegiance to the power corridors, therefore, he is not facing hostile prosecution.

The case of Maryam Nawaz on the other hand, is also being zealously pursued. Prosecution of NAB has filed multiple application seeking day to day trial and cancellation of her bail granted her in Avenfield Apartment reference.

Maryam Nawaz, along with her father Nawaz Sharif and spouse Capt (R) Safdar, was convicted in Avenfield Apartment reference on July 06, 2018, days before the General Elections 2018.

She is taking on Gen Faiz head-on as her recent petition accused the spymaster of manipulating the elections through what she calls a trumped up conviction of her father and herself days before the 2018 General Election.

NAB has accused her of being beneficial owner of the Avenfield Apartment and presenting a forged trust deed before the Supreme Court. IHC will decide the fate of the accusation of submitting trust deed while deciding her main appeal against her conviction in the Avenfield Apartment reference.

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