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Khawaja Asif’s ouster is a victory at internal front and shame on the international landscape

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News Analysis |

The Islamabad High Court finally sealed the political career of Khawaja Asif; the foreign minister of Pakistan, for concealing his employment contract and salary which he was entitled to as an employee of United Arab Emirates-based company.

The sentence handed down by a court, other than the Supreme Court, has set the tongues wagging whether Khawaja Asif’s offshore work permit (iqama) was of so severe nature to have cost him his political career, or the judiciary was overstepping its domain, or the close confidantes of Sharif’s were deliberately being targeted.

Khawaja Asif, in his reply to the Islamabad High Court, had contended that he had shown the income in the nomination papers, however, the three-member larger bench retaliated, in its judgment, by declaring that the employment and the salary i.e 50,000 AED were not mentioned.

Sheikh Rasheed contends that he did not hide his assets, though, admits that there was a mistake in mentioning the value of the assets. On the other hand, the complainant seeks disqualification on the same pattern as in the Panama Papers case.

Even if the loyalists of ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz argue that the judgment was vindictive, there can be no reason to justify the offshore employment of a lawmaker. Khawaja Asif was serving as the foreign minister of the county since August last year after Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was nominated as the new Prime Minister.

He had taken the oath of his office, a month after his employment contract with  International Mechanical and Electrical Company (IMECO) was renewed and looking at the nature of Pakistan’s ties with UAE, either he had not been nominated as the foreign minister, or he should have relinquished his affiliation with the company.

Read more: Senior PML-N leader Khawaja Asif disqualified for life by IHC

Though Pakistan and UAE have a cordial relationship with each other and thousands of skilled workers from Pakistan are employed in the Gulf state, even then, there remain some contentious issues.

The most important conflict between the two countries is the non-payment of $800 million regarding the privatization of PTCL. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Ishaq Dar, the former finance minister had expressed that ‘over-activism’ should not be shown on the matter, signaling a visible conflict of interest, as he had also worked with the bigwigs of UAE.

The Islamabad High Court finally sealed the political career of Khawaja Asif; the foreign minister of Pakistan, for concealing his employment contract and salary which he was entitled to as an employee of United Arab Emirates-based company.

Khawaja Asif, who is a firebrand leader of embattled Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, could not raise the issue as well. Looking from the perspective of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, even if legal boundaries are stretched to give liberty to Asif, how would the moral aspect be justified. The ‘conflict of interest’ remains there, even if the allegations of selective justice and victimization are acknowledged for a while.

A recent example of ‘conflict of interest’ is the apology tendered by Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, who was issued stern warnings by the ethics commissioner last year, merely for visiting the private island of Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims.

Read more: Khawaja Asif expects India and Pakistan to respect Indus Water Treaty

Trudeau had to apologize publically for spending a few days with Aga Khan and receiving gifts, because a firm owned by Aga Khan Foundation lobbied for the prime minister’s office. In case of a full-time employment with an offshore firm and simultaneously handling foreign affairs reveals the severity of the conflict of interest in Khawaja Asif’s case.

Looking at the judicial decisions, from disqualification of Nawaz Sharif to Jahangir Tareen and now Khawaja Asif, the vibes are positive as the courts are now showing spine to act against the influential elite.

Though Pakistan and UAE have a cordial relationship with each other and thousands of skilled workers from Pakistan are employed in the Gulf state, even then, there remain some contentious issues.

The precedent set by the apex court of disqualifying Nawaz Sharif over non-disclosure of assets has been endorsed by the Islamabad High Court and candidates willing to become lawmakers would be mentioning their complete assets in nomination forms transparently, which is an essence of democracy.

Read more: AD Khawaja vs. PPP provincial government; the complete saga

Pakistan’s foreign minister’s disqualification is a matter of shame on the international foray, however, on the internal front, the verdict speaks volumes about the bright future of Pakistan’s democracy. Khawaja Asif’s disqualification has also prompted debate about the eligibility of Awami Muslim League chief, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, whose case is also pending before the apex court.

Sheikh Rasheed contends that he did not hide his assets, though, admits that there was a mistake in mentioning the value of the assets. On the other hand, the complainant seeks disqualification on the same pattern as in the Panama Papers case.

Whatever be the judgment of the apex court, Islamabad High Court’s bold decision has reinforced the groundwork for the superior judiciary to implement the legal injunctions, irrespective of respondent’s political clout.


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