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Pakistan foreign minister disqualified over UAE work permit

Asif is a close aide of Sharif and is widely seen as an outspoken critic of military interference in politics.

world Updated: Apr 26, 2018 19:37 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Khawaja Asif,Pakistan,Pakistan Foreign Minister
Khawaja Muhammad Asif was disqualified over the alleged possession of a work permit for the United Arab Emirates.(AFP File Photo)

A Pakistani court disqualified foreign minister Khawaja Asif on Thursday for dishonesty, dealing another blow to the ruling PML-N party ahead of a crucial general election due in a few months.

A three-judge bench of the Islamabad high court unanimously ruled that 68-year-old Asif was not “truthful” and “honest” under Article 62 (1)(f) of the Constitution as he had not declared that he held an ‘iqama’ or work permit of the United Arab Emirates. His disqualification means he will be ineligible to hold public office for life.

“We declare that the respondent (Asif) was not qualified to contest the general election of 2013...as he did not fulfil the conditions described under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution,” the bench said.

Article 62, which sets the precondition for a lawmaker to be ‘sadiq’ and ‘ameen’ (honest and righteous), is the same provision used to disqualify former prime minister Nawaz Sharif last year in the Panama Papers case.

Soon after the verdict, Asif told the media he would challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court. He said he had never concealed his foreign work permit.

Asif is a close aide of Sharif and is widely seen as an outspoken critic of military interference in politics. He was serving his fourth consecutive term as a member of the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament.

Sharif and other top PML-N leaders have complained that the judiciary is targeting the party ahead of the general election, expected in July, at the behest of the military. Speaking shortly after the verdict against Asif, Sharif urged PML-N workers to mobilise ahead of the elections no matter what happens in the courts.

Sharif and some family members are facing a Supreme Court-ordered trial in an anti-corruption court, which is expected to make a ruling next month. Sharif could face prison if convicted.

The Islamabad high court noted in its verdict, “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 bench observed Asif had taken the stance that the employment contracts were executed merely to fulfil requirements under the laws of the UAE. “In this regard, a certificate dated 12.04.2018, executed by the managing director of the company, has also been placed on record...In other words, the respondent has taken a stance which tatamounts to acknowledging that he had executed a false contract with the intent of deceiving the laws of another sovereign state,” the order said.

The court’s registrar was directed to send a copy of the judgement to the Election Commission and Speaker of the National Assembly to denotify Asif as an MP.

The petition against Asif was filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Usman Dar, seeking his disqualification for holding a UAE work permit. Dar lost the election to Asif in 2013.

Dar alleged Asif had an unlimited term contract with International Mechanical and Electrical Co and that he was hired as a full-time employee in July 2011. He alleged Asif was to receive a monthly salary of AED 35,000 and a monthly allowance of AED 15,000, which he did not declare. The petition pointed out the work permit was valid till June 2019.

During the hearing, Asif submitted a letter from the company that said he was not a full-time employee and only worked as a consultant.

First Published: Apr 26, 2018 15:35 IST