Pakistan foreign minister disqualified from parliament

Islamabad High Court dismisses Khwaja Muhammad Asif for making omissions on a parliamentary wealth declaration.

Opposition party supporters celebrate Asif's disqualification[Faisal Mahmood/ Reuters]
Opposition party supporters celebrate Asif's disqualification[Faisal Mahmood/ Reuters]

A Pakistani court has disqualified Foreign Minister Khwaja Muhammad Asif from holding public office on charges that he made omissions on a parliamentary wealth declaration, the latest blow to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.

A three-member bench of the Islamabad High Court issued the verdict in the Pakistani capital on Thursday.

Asif later told local media that he would appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.

The ruling marked the latest dismissal of a member of parliament for not being “honest and trustworthy”, based on an article of the Pakistani constitution that sets out criteria of eligibility to be elected to the National Assembly.

In July last year, the country’s Supreme Court dismissed then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the chief of the ruling PML-N party to which Asif also belongs, for omissions on his parliamentary wealth declaration.

Asif’s case was similar to that of Sharif, in that it pertains to a salary linked to a United Arab Emirates (UAE) work permit.

“It is obvious from the facts and circumstances in the instant case that the Respondent had deliberately and willfully not disclosed his status as an employee of the Company, nor receiving of the salary per month pursuant thereto, despite having been expressly put to challenge by the other contesting candidates,” reads the verdict.

Asif had an employment contract as a legal adviser with a UAE-based firm called International Mechanical and Electrical Company.

Banned for life

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that Sharif and other legislators had violated the “honest and trustworthy” criteria for membership of parliament, and were banned from public office for life. 

Jahangir Tareen, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), was also disqualified for incomplete income disclosures in December.

In Thursday’s judgment, the judges warned against the conduct of politics through the courts, as it “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”.

“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,” the verdict said.

Pakistan is due to hold a general election in July 2018. Sharif’s PML-N has been campaigning on a platform of being unfairly victimised by the courts.

The PTI, which had filed the complaints against both Sharif and Asif, lauded the verdict as a victory for democracy.

Asif, a seasoned political leader, had previously won three elections from his constituency in the central city of Sialkot, and served as minister of defence, as well as heading the water and power ministry, prior to being appointed as foreign minister in August.

Additional reporting by Asad Hashim, Al Jazeera’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim

Source: Al Jazeera

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