The case against PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the Supreme Court regarding the purchase of his Bani Gala estate is slowly advancing towards a conclusion. As the situation stands now, Imran Khan’s legal team is struggling to justify and explain the money trail in the purchase of the sprawling hill-top estate. There is this annoying amount of £100,000 that somehow hasn’t left a paper trail so necessary to explain its presence — or absence. There may yet be a twist in the tale but the eventuality of the honourable judges ruling against the PTI supremo remains real.
In other words, Imran Khan could be disqualified as a member of the National Assembly, and perhaps barred from contesting the 2018 elections. What then? Here goes:
1. If PTI is able to garner the numbers to de-seat PPP’s Khursheed Shah as Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, it will be in a position to put its own nominee in this important position. Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s possible nomination for the position last week elicited a visceral reaction from within the party rank and file forcing him on the defensive and stating Imran would make the final decision. Naeemul Haq — Imran’s confidante — then faced the cameras and declared unequivocally that in fact Imran Khan would, most definitely, be the PTI nominee for the post of the Leader of the Opposition. Except there’s a problem.
2. If the decision for the Leader of the Opposition is taken before the judges decide the case, and if Imran Khan is indeed nominated as the person to replace Shah, and if he does indeed become the Leader of the Opposition and occupies the chair across the aisle from the prime minister, and if then the SC flings the judgment against him like a thunderbolt and disqualifies Imran Khan from being a member of the National Assembly — then we do have a problem.
3. If this were to happen, the honourable and most elevated Supreme Court would have successfully knocked out a prime minister and a leader of the opposition within a span of a few weeks. Go figure the optics of such an eventuality. And while you are doing so, spare a thought for the PTI chairman who would go down in history as possibly the shortest serving leader of the opposition in parliament.
4. Which is why if Imran Khan is smart — and if he wants to be the leader of the opposition — he would wait for the SC judgment before attempting to dislodge Khursheed Shah. He may want to think through the consequences of an ill-timed decision.
5. And yet there are other complications: a) the SC case against him may conclude but the judges may reserve their judgment. There’s only so much long the PTI can wait before it has to decide one way or the other about its bid to claim the slot of the leader of the opposition. Since the PTI has already cast the die it cannot let the issue linger on. The numbers will be clear fairly soon; b) if the judgement is taking time and PTI has to decide, it will either have the numbers and decide about Khan as the nominee; or not have the numbers and admit a humiliating defeat.
6. If PTI has the numbers, it will need to gamble with its nominee: a) go with Khan and run the risk of him being kicked out of the slot and the assembly by the court; b) opt for Shah Mehmood Qureshi or some other senior person and risk serious dissent and rancor within its ranks. Either way the outcomes are not pretty.
7. And if these outcomes are not pretty, buckle up in case Imran is disqualified and barred from contesting the next elections. The following immediate consequences would kick in: a) PTI will have to figure out who its prime minister would be if it wins the next elections. Minus Imran, this exercise for the party would be like going through a leg amputation with a steak knife without anesthesia. Recall the vicious reaction to the possible nomination of Shah Mehmood Qureshi as leader of the opposition, and now imagine the same party leadership — riven as it is with intense jealousy and factionalism — trying to agree on a prime minister. Yes, Imran Khan will nominate someone from among the senior ranks (Asad Umar, Shah Mehmood, Jahangir Tareen, Fawad Chaudhry?) but turbulence is not hard to imagine. Recall this is the same party that is yet to heal the self-inflicted wounds of its party elections.
8. Even more damaging would be the moral decapitation of Imran Khan and by extension the politics espoused by him and his party. He and Nawaz Sharif would then share a dubious moral equivalence in terms of misdemeanours as identified by Supreme Court judges. If the PML-N plays its cards right, it could in such an eventuality dilute to a significant level the damage done by its leader’s disqualification.
9. With Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan both out of the electoral battle of 2018, two major questions will arise: a) what is the credibility and sustainability of a system in which the two most popular leaders of the country are not on the ballot? And b) has representative democracy been beaten down by the powerful establishment to a level where its effectiveness in terms of real governance is in serious doubt?
10. If Imran Khan is disqualified, it will not mark the end of his politics. The irony may be lost on him that he will benefit from the same clause he has condemned so vociferously for enabling Nawaz Sharif to return as the president of his party. And yet Imran’s disqualification — if it were to happen — would reorient the contours of the debate about politics, accountability, courts and the role of the establishment in our ever-turbulent landscape.
It is high time politicians war-gamed some sense into their decision-making process.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2017.