ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A Pakistani court disqualified Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif from parliament on Thursday, media reported, dealing a blow to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party ahead of a general election due in a few months.
Asif could not be immediately reached for comment but the Geo TV channel said he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. It was not clear if Asif would have to step down from his post as foreign minister.
The three-member bench, announcing the verdict, stated that Asif was not even qualified to contest polls in 2013. The registrar was also directed to send a copy of the judgement to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the speaker of the national assembly to denotify Asif as member parliament.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) supporters started chanting slogans of “Go Nawaz Go” outside the court after the announcement of the verdict.
Meanwhile, Asif has announced that he will challenge the high court verdict disqualifying him for life. He added that he had never concealed his foreign work permit
Asif, a close ally of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is one of the most high-profile PML-N figures in government and was among names tipped to replace Sharif when the veteran leader was removed from office by the Supreme Court last year.
Sharif and other top PML-N officials have complained that the judiciary is targeting the party ahead of the polls, which are likely to be held in July.
Usman Dar, a rival politician from Asif’s constituency in the town of Sialkot, near the Indian border, filed a petition against Asif to have him disqualified over alleged possession of a work permit for the United Arab Emirates.
“After today there is no place left for Khawaja Asif in Pakistan’s politics,” Dar, who is a member of the opposition Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, told reporters outside the court.
Dar contested the 2013 parliamentary elections as a PTI candidate but lost to Asif by a wide margin.
The bench has observed that the respondent had taken the stance that the employment contracts had been executed merely to fulfil the requirements of the laws of the United Arab Emirates. “In this regard, a certificate, dated 12.04.2018, executed by the managing director of the company, has also been placed on record…The respondent, by taking this stance, has further complicated matters for himself,” noted the verdict.
“In other words, the respondent has taken a stance which tantamounts to acknowledging that he had executed a false contract with the intent of deceiving the laws of another sovereign State.”
“The certificate, dated 12-04-2018, issued by the Company and the stance taken by the Respondent to the effect that the employment contracts and the contents thereof were false explains withholding of this vital information while submitting the nomination paper,” it added.
However, the court has allowed for the verdict to be challenged. Citing the law, the IHC judgment observes that “a disqualification can be challenged before a High Court under Article 199(1)(b)(ii) if it has been overlooked, illegally condoned or went unquestioned on the nomination day or before the election tribunal.”
“This jurisdiction can be exercised if the facts can be determined without recording of evidence and when intricate disputed questions are not involved. It is for this reason that we have solely considered those facts and events which were admitted before us,” further read the verdict.
The verdict also mentioned that Asif had not declared a bank account maintained with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi in the statement of assets and liabilities attached to his nomination paper.
The IHC (Islamabad High Court) however, stated that the verdict was passed with a heavy heart. “We have handed down this judgment with a heavy heart not only because a seasoned and accomplished political figure stands disqualified but more so because the dreams and aspirations of 342,125 registered voters have suffered a setback.”
“When political forces, instead of settling disputes at the political forums, particularly the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) resort to the Courts, it has consequences not only for the institutions but the litigant public as well,” the verdict observed.
“This conduct of political forces lowers public confidence in the legislature on the one hand and on the other hand exposes the institution of the judiciary to the controversies of adversarial politics.”