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May 2, 2021
In a country where Form 45 has almost become a political term; where the counting of less
than 100,000 votes can take hours; and where not a single election has been untainted by
accusations of the euphemistically termed ‘foul play’, it is odd that the ‘electoral reforms’
buzzword has been bandied about but not really been taken up seriously. It has been obvious
for some time that Pakistan’s crumbling electoral system is in need of reform. In fact, over
the past decades, almost all political parties have talked about electoral reform as the essential
ingredient to make the electoral system more representative and fair. Unfortunately, little has
been done other than the occasional bouts of hand-wringing over the need for such reforms.
Now the recent by-elections in Daska and in NA-249 in Karachi, each with their own
controversies, have drawn further attention on the need to focus on ideally building a
consensus between all political parties on electoral reforms. This may not be easy, but it is
necessary. Just before Election 2018, a small step was taken to introduce some election
reform via the Election Bill 2017. The bill had some undoubted positives, but the reforms
were dwarfed by what the bill did not tackle: the issue of votes of overseas Pakistanis;
balloting by mail; the eternal question of political financing and so on.
While the political road to electoral reforms may be full of twists and turns, experts that have
studied reforms are mostly agreed on some bare minimums that need to be kept in mind when
undertaking this process. Any reform must include a check on the manner in which officials
are appointed at the administrative levels in constituencies where a poll is due; this was
tackled in previous legislation as well and needs to be implemented. Perhaps the most important of all is the power and autonomy of the Election Commission of Pakistan. Without
an independent ECP, elections are doomed to controversy. The current code of conduct
already in place for elections in Pakistan too needs to be reviewed; it is an important part of a
fair and representative election, since rules regarding spending fall under it. Needless to say,
a fair election must allow every eligible Pakistani citizen to contest the polls as well as to use
the power of the vote. Other electoral challenges include the printing of ballots and protecting
them from the point they are transported to polling booths to the phase where they are
counted. Missing returning officers and crashing RTS’ will certainly have to be a thing of the
past if any serious reform is to take place. This is where the much-touted Electronic Voting
system comes in. The government has been advocating for switching to electronic voting
machines (EVMs) for some time now; in fact, the prime minister too has only a day back
tweeted about the need to introduce EVMs. While in principle the concept sounds fairer,
some kinks may have to be resolved before it is put in practice. For one, the ECP has doubts
over EVM use, citing a pilot study that showed technical issues and people’s scepticism over
the accuracy of the machines. There is also the matter of legislation that will need to be
enacted for EVM use.
There have justifiably been concerns among political observers that people’s trust in
democracy and the electoral process has dwindled considerably by the mishandling of both
the recent by-elections. There is plenty of work to be done then. And all of it will require all
political parties to sit on the same table and agree on the reforms. There is no point in any
reform if there is no political consensus around it. The electoral malpractices we have
witnessed recently do not only require reforms on paper; they also call for political will on
the part of all major political parties. Good ethical and political attitudes are a prerequisite for
such reforms. When institutions that should be entirely non-partisan display explicit or
implicit partisanship, no functional democracy can come into being. Electoral reforms –
much like efforts at accountability or any other well-meaning initiative – will only work if
they are not used as a red herring by any stakeholder in the process. A strong belief in
upholding the constitution is what has led to governments in other parliamentary democracies
to follow free and transparent elections, no matter how much acrimony exists among parties.
That is the kind of adherence to constitutional principles, electoral rules and the law of the
land that we need in Pakistan. If we cannot ensure a fair and free election, conducted by an
impartial body, we cannot claim to be a democracy. In this, parliamentary channels are the
best forums for initiating a discussion on electoral reforms; mere press statements will not be
of much help.
Package for GB
May 2, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan, during his visit to Gilgit-Baltistan, announced a package of Rs
370 billion for the region over the next five years. The package is to be used to generate
hydel power, improve the existing WiFi system in the territory, provide sanitation and
sewerage to parts of the urban towns and cities in the region which are overpressed for these
facilities and to offer the people as much as is possible in terms of development and facilities
that they require. The prime minister also spoke of doing far more to develop tourism in the
area, and also the traditional industries. It should be noted that with a literacy rate of 37
percent overall and considerable empowerment for women in some parts of the region
through higher education made available to them, as well as better schooling set up by private
organisations, Gilgit-Baltistan is unique in some facets of life. The fact that certain schools
operate at a very high level shows how much can be achieved through good quality education
The prime minister said that developing tourism would be one of the prime factors of the
development package for Gilgit-Baltistan. There can be no doubt at all that GB has beautiful
spots, which match those found anywhere in the world. We must however take steps to
ensure that the ecology of the area is not damaged. We have seen this happen as roads opened
up more areas of Kaghan and Swat to tourists, with once pristine lakes badly polluted. It
would be terrible to see the same happen to Gilgit-Baltistan. The community too would be
disturbed by this with some residents of the area already expressing concern in the past over
the behaviour of local tourists who have visited their region. All this needs to be considered
as the package is set up. It is however clear that GB needs to be developed and the PM’s
efforts to do so are welcome. We hope that further steps will be taken in the future and that
the quality of life of people who live in the remote parts of our country can be brought at par
with those who live in urban centres elsewhere across Pakistan, giving them the same status
Development for Balochistan
May 2, 2021
Balochistan is 44 percent of Pakistan in terms of its geography and is also the most resource
rich province of the country. However, it seems as if its vast geography and natural
endowments have become a political nemesis for the people of Balochistan.
If you are bold enough to traverse the bumpy tracks of an impoverished country to reach its
‘interior’ spaces in any other part of the world, you have to be even bolder than that to
muddle through the odds to venture into the heart of Balochistan. The poverty, deprivation,
privation – and as many adjectives of adversity as a lexicon can hold – seen there would not
be able to accurately capture the plight of the people of Balochistan.
This becomes by no means an exaggeration when you bump into a barefooted child in Pishin
just 57 kilometers away from Quetta or within Quetta district pleading for a loaf of bread. If
you move further from Pishin to Qilla Saifullah, you will be lost in a medieval world very
much like a beleaguered kingdom of a vanquished prince. By the time you reach even deeper
into Balochistan like Dera Bugti, Jhal Magsi and Awaran you will feel frozen in a bygone
It will take hardly 14 hours of drive even from the modern and scenic federal capital of
Islamabad to reach the environs of the heart of Balochistan. For a tourist, this journey of the
evolution of human society just in 14 hours may look like an incredible voyage of
adventurism into the past but it is not so fascinating for the local people of Balochistan. The
people and geography of Balochistan cannot be reduced to mere artifacts of a writer’s
imagination or a dreamland of some simulated altruism of a far-removed reformer.
The first thing to do is to recognize that the people of Balochistan are not the objects of the
policy perceptions of a distant well-wisher. Their human agency matters, and they are the
best judge of what works for the development of their land. A sensitive mind may react to all
this by bashing our lack of empathy, lack of compassion and our condescending attitude towards the peripheral parts of our hypocritical society. This reaction makes sense but that is
not all we must be content with if we are committed to working with people and helping our
peripheries transform into livable places.
A lot has been written on the plight in Balochistan. Unfortunately, policymakers in the
federal capital, and far removed well-wishers of Balochistan suffer from the colonizing white
man burden syndrome. All they can do at their best is to dictate the terms of development
which at times end up feeding the bulging bellies of the rich at the cost of the common
people. Balochistan needs a local development paradigm in which people feel included in the
process of development.
Balochistan with its rich natural endowments and vast geographical location can help long-
term development in Pakistan. Its vast swathe of rangeland provides a sustainable means of
livelihood in that Pakistan can overcome the looming national food insecurity by extending
business development services of food supply chains. This can entail supporting the local
rural population in raising goats, sheep, buffaloes, cattle, camels and other livestock, and
building basic infrastructure to link them to dairy production centers and food markets.
Balochistan’s southern part occupies about two thirds of the national coastline and can help
build reliable supply chains to national and international food franchises right from the large
pool of fishery resources. The province can become the hub of national economic growth
through trade with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf countries.
For the last many decades, Balochistan has remained the source of an uninterrupted supply of
cheap natural gas to Pakistan's economic centers. The province has many untapped natural
resources which cannot be utilized for inclusive economic growth without ensuring the peace
and political stability. This requires a larger framework of development, ranging from district
development strategies to provincial development plans for expediting the pace of prosperity
across Balochistan with huge dividends for the political and economic stability of Pakistan.
This calls for a paradigm shift from geostrategic thinking to geo-economic thinking for which
it is essential to strengthen democratic institutions and improve governance.
There is also a growing realization in the power corridors to redefine the national
development trajectory with a geo-economic lens to overcome the political vulnerabilities of
Pakistan. The geo-economic strategy works well when governments make conscious efforts
to bring political stability to create an enabling environment for economic growth. Political
stability can be attained through locally informed strategies of development which are
inclusive and intrinsically linked to the aspirations of the people. No matter how effective the
provincial development strategies might look in theory, it is local planning which works well
in the final analysis. It is, therefore, important to devise locally grounded, context specific
and integrated district development plans for Balochistan.
With this context in mind, the government of Balochistan should embark upon developing
district development strategies through consistent engagement with local stakeholders, in
particular with the local communities. The provincial ministry of planning and development
can engage poverty alleviation agencies to support the government in broad-based, integrated
and sustainable development. District development strategies will pave the way for an
overdue process of engagement of all stakeholders to crowd in their resources and strategic
investments to help build a better Balochistan.
There needs to be a comprehensive provincial development strategy for Balochistan which
outlines the key areas of investment for inclusive growth and provides the roadmap for
integrated development in the province. The provincial development strategy should
highlight the fundamentals of impact-oriented community driven development and local
action for poverty alleviation. District Development Plans, therefore, will be the key
instruments to translate provincial strategy into local action. Nonetheless, local action needs
to be buttressed through a process of continued engagement in which federal and provincial
governments work closely and extend support in local action for social change.
The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in
Islamabad. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @AmirHussain76
A patchwork of ideals
May 2, 2021
An unexamined life, as Socrates is supposed to have said at his trial, is not worth living. This
philosophical lesson synchronises with the message of most religions. Indeed, we are all
accountable for how we live our lives. But the point here is that we should consciously
develop a capacity to examine and question our deeds and our values.
And the same principle should be applied to collective entities, such as organised groups,
institutions and nations. In fact, it is imperative for institutions to define the purpose of their
existence and consistently examine the quality of their prescribed conduct.
As for nations, there is this fundamental concept of a vision or a set of ideals. Pakistan is
almost unique in this respect because it was born of an idea. Conventional wisdom states that
the dream was dreamt by poet Iqbal who, by the way, compellingly asserted that a nation that
does not constantly reckon with every action that it takes is doomed. Then, the dream was
brought into reality by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. That is how we invoke his
vision all the time, without being able to define – and, thus, examine – its contours.
Enough of a preamble. We can look before and after (and pine for what is not) but the
intention is to cast a glance at the state of the nation in the light of how it is governed. A
recurring assignment is to figure out the status of the ‘Naya Pakistan’ project and try to
decipher the direction in which it is going.
Making a distinction between the superficial shine and the intrinsic worth of events that make
media headlines is a problem. For instance, there was the judgment on Monday of Justice
Faez Isa’s case. Everyone noted its dramatic twist. Accepting the review petitions, the ten-
member bench overturned, by six to four, its own June 2020 majority judgment.
One has to be aware of the background of proceedings that began with a presidential
reference. Take a look at how this process stumbled through some awkward and emotional
exchanges in the courtroom to arrive at this judgment. Essentially, Justice Isa’s vindication
amounted to the rulers’ loss of face.
Let me quote just one sentence from a published editorial: “The verdict also serves as an
object lesson for those who tried to pervert the law and the concept of accountability to
malign and excise from the bench a judge unafraid to call them out for their excesses”.
Justice Isa had himself argued his case. However, one gets the feeling that Monday’s verdict,
announced as a short order, would not be the end of this matter. Still, what does it mean in the
context of the superior judiciary’s role and reach in the disputes that are now taking shape?
In any case, the reverberations made by Justice Isa's case were almost immediately drowned
in the thunder of incendiary revelations of the former head of the Federal Investigation
Agency, Bashir A Memon. Among other things, he alleged that Prime Minister Imran Khan
himself had wanted him to initiate proceedings against Justice Isa. One expression that
circulated in the media was that Bashir Memon had opened Pandora's box.
Suddenly, he became the star of prime time talk shows, appearing on one channel after
another and confidently repeating his account of how the government was playing foul to
initiate cases against its political opponents. This charge was so serious that Imran Khan had
to respond. He rejected the allegations in a meeting with a group of TV anchorpersons at the
PM House on Thursday.
Considering the potential of Jehangir Tareen’s powerful group to undermine the PTI’s
political legitimacy and the dismal performance of the PTI candidate in Karachi’s by-election
for NA -249, a constituency previously held by the PTI, would it be fair to say that Imran
Khan is more vulnerable now than before? If Pandora has opened her box, many miseries are
likely to come out, in addition to the deathly shadows cast by the pandemic.
But Imran Khan has seldom been as dynamic as he is at this time. He is following a hectic
schedule, making multiple appearances to cut ribbons, lay foundation stones and make visits
to other cities. He is live on TV channels almost every day and at times more than once in a
day, dispensing his wisdom on how he is making a ‘naya’ Pakistan. He flaunts his credentials
in a rather passionate manner.
One refrain is that he knows the West like no other person. But the Imran who went to
Oxford and played cricket for a number of years and eventually married Jemima was
someone else. The West he came into contact with was one segment of what we know as a
civilisation that has its good and bad features. It is interesting that the post-West Imran may
agree with some popular clerics’ views of the West.
This does not mean that he should not be taken seriously when he finds inspiration in
different and often contradictory systems of governance. Beyond any doubt, he admires
authoritarian leaders and regimes. Bashir Memon’s revelations included a reference to how
some Middle East regimes had dealt with corruption in high places.
A desire to emulate China for lifting people out of poverty makes a lot of sense. But does he
know China as well as he does the West? Would he support a socialist revolution in Pakistan,
one feature of which would be to reject organised religion?
Finally, one would totally agree with his formulation on elite capture. I like to quote a former
country head of UNDP who, when he was leaving Pakistan, said that the elite have to decide
if they want a country. But there is little thought devoted to how the elite can be defeated.
Some of those who are persecuted in Imran’s Pakistan may have some views on how to do it.
And when it comes to cutting the moneyed elite to size, would Imran like this to happen to so
many of his friends and associates?
The writer is a senior journalist.
Email: [email protected]
Hazrat Ali’s martyrdom
May 2, 2021
As Muslims bowed down during the early morning ‘fajr’ congregational prayers in the
historic mosque in Kufa, southern Iraq, an assassin armed with a poison-dipped sword rose
and struck Hazrat Ali (a.s.), the son-in-law and cousin of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the
fourth caliph of Islam.
‘Fuztu bey Rab’il Kaaba’ [By the Lord of ‘Kaaba’, I have succeeded] proclaimed Hazrat Ali
(a.s.) as blood oozed from his fatal wound. Members of the prayer congregation that he was
leading gathered around him while Abdul Rehman ibn e Muljim, the assassin, was arrested.
So profound was the impact of this monumental tragedy in 661 AD or 40 years after the
‘hijrah’ Islamic calendar began that the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) is commemorated to
this day from the 19th day of Ramazan till the 21st of Ramazan – the day when Hazrat Ali
(a.s.) passed away. The remembrance bears testimony to a life lived to the full in the service
of Allah and his followers.
In keeping with past tradition, scores of Muslims will visit the ‘Kufa’ mosque and Hazrat
Ali’s final resting place in Najaf, southern Iraq on Sunday, to begin three days of mourning as
they pay respect to the legacy of the fourth caliph of Islam.
Hazrat Ali (a.s.) is still remembered as the wisest of the wise and the bravest of the brave
among a long line up of rulers in the history of Islam. As the first among men to convert to
Islam, Hazrat Ali (a.s.) was closely influenced since childhood by Prophet Muhammad
His birth on the 13th day of the Islamic month of Rajab ul Murajab still takes Muslims to the
Holy Kaaba, Mecca, where Hazrat Ali (a.s.) was born. This gave him the unique distinction
of being born inside the house of Allah and martyred too inside a historic place dedicated to
Allah, the mosque at Kufa.
In a clear testimony of his profound influence in history, some of the world’s leading scholars
have written extensively about Hazrat Ali (a.s.) as a leader, a guide and a teacher, an able
administrator, a skilful general and last but not the least, an exemplary individual among pious figures. The multi-faceted personality of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) comes across prominently in
‘Nahj al-Balagha’, a compilation of his sermons, letters and commandments.
Within this record, an oft-repeated document remains a letter that Hazrat Ali (a.s.) wrote to
Malik Ashtar, one of his most loyal followers, upon the latter’s appointment as the governor
of Egypt – then a province of the Islamic empire. The letter has been repeatedly cited as a
model for the successful administration of a state based on justice.
Among prominent international citizens who spoke out publicly to acknowledge this
document, the words of the late Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United
Nations remain memorable. “The Caliph Ali (a.s.) is considered the fairest leader (after
Prophet Muhammad [may peace be upon him]) who appeared in human history, so we advise
Arab countries to take Imam Ali (a.s.) as an example in establishing a regime based on justice
and democracy. In the times of radical and extremist interpretations of Islam, it is essential to
put forward Hazrat Ali’s understanding of Islam to establish a just system” said Mr Annan.
These views followed the original text of the letter where Hazrat Ali (a.s.) advised his
followers to embrace humility in ruling over their subjects. “(Do not say) I am your overlord
and dictator, and that you should therefore bow to my commands as this will corrupt your
heart, weaken your faith in religion and create disorder in the state. Should you be elated by
power, ever feel in your mind the slightest symptoms of pride and arrogance, then look at the
power and majesty of the divine governance of the universe over which you have absolutely
Beyond his unparalleled knowledge and wisdom, the example of the bravery of Hazrat Ali
(a.s.) is often cited in relation to his success on the battlefield. The success of Muslims during
the battle of Khaybar is often remembered as an example of Hazrat Ali’s bravery. The event
involved a 17-day siege of a well-protected fort held by a Jewish tribe outside Medina.
In the face of what may have looked like a long-drawn standoff, the Prophet Muhammad
(pbuh) proclaimed that he would gave the flag of his army the next day to an able individual
who would bring victory. The flag was handed over by the Prophet (pbuh) to Hazrat Ali (a.s.)
who single-handedly breached the front entrance of the fort and led Muslims to victory.
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) remains his unparalleled grip on
knowledge, laying the foundation for a continued search for knowledge by muslims for times
From his pulpit at the ‘Kufa’ mosque during his five years as caliph, Hazrat Ali repeatedly
claimed; “Salooni, Salooni, Qabla Ant’afkadooni” (Ask me, Ask me before I am not amongst
you). Since his martyrdom, that claim by Hazrat Ali (a.s.) has never been successfully made
by any one in the history of the world The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs.
Email: [email protected] com
Dr Farrukh Saleem
May 2, 2021
A man-made disaster of gigantic proportions is in the making: the government of Pakistan,
with more than four dozen cabinet members, forgot to purchase Covid-19 vaccines on time.
A blunder of epic proportions. Alarm bells rang on June 20, 2020 when Pakistan recorded
159 Covid-19 related single-day deaths (during the first wave). Then on December 24, 2020
when Pakistan recorded 111 single-day deaths (during the second wave). On April 28, 2021
Pakistan recorded 201 single-day, Covid-19 related deaths, the highest ever.
Coronavirus cases approaching 900,000. Forgot to order vaccines. Deaths approaching
18,000. Forgot to order vaccines. Waiting for donations. Waiting for a miracle. On January
27 this year, PM Imran Khan “approved Rs500 million in development funds for each
lawmaker of the PTI-led government.” That’s a wholesome Rs88.5 billion. With Rs88.5
billion we could have administered 145 million Pakistanis their first dose. But, nothing –
absolutely nothing – for vaccines. On March 20, PM Imran Khan tested positive for Covid-
19. On March 23, our government finally woke up and “bought more than one million doses
of Chinese Sinopharm and CanSino Biologics Covid-19 vaccines, its first purchase from any
manufacturer – having previously relied on donations.”
The prime minister of Bhutan – a poor landlocked Himalayan country – has managed to
vaccinate 62 percent of Bhutan’s population. The prime minister of Pakistan has managed to
vaccinate one percent of Pakistan’s population. India is at 9 percent and Bangladesh is at 3.5
percent. Thailand has procured vaccinations to cover 52 percent of its population; Nepal 47
percent, Turkey 63 percent and African Union 40 percent. Pakistan: one percent.
On April 28, Asad Umar, our ex-economic czar, proudly tweeted: “Daily vaccinations
crossed 1 lakh in a day for the first time yesterday.” Sir, at that rate it would take eight long
years to vaccinate the entire population provided we get a continuous supply of vaccine-
which we incidentally forgot to order.
What are the risks for Pakistan? Here’s the expert opinion: “In countries where no significant
proportion of the population is vaccinated, there is a huge risk of sustained community spread
of Covid-19 over a prolonged period. The longer the period of sustained community spread,
the more likely that the virus will mutate. And this means it could be breeding ground for the
new coronavirus-SARS-CoV-2-to mutate into more aggressive variants. The mutated variants
from the unvaccinated population may be able to infect even those in the vaccinated
Vaccinated countries will close down their borders to Pakistanis. Vaccinated countries may
even refuse to accept Pakistani exports. No international travel – except for the vaccinated.
Within Pakistan, we “could soon find ourselves battling epidemics of diseases we thought we
had conquered decades ago.”
Lockdown is not a solution – it's only a stop-gap arrangement. The Covid-19 endgame is all
about vaccinations. Vaccines are working. In the UK (50 percent vaccinated), “cases, hospital
admissions and deaths have fallen…” In the US (42 percent vaccinated), “hospitalisations
continue to decline…” On April 24, Israel (62 percent vaccinated), “recorded no new daily
Covid-19 deaths for the first time in 10 months.”
On April 9, Pakistan raised $2.5 billion through a multi-tranche transaction of dollar-
denominated Eurobonds. The cost of vaccinating 220 million Pakistanis will be around $1.5
billion. Will Pakistan be declared the ‘breeding ground for the new coronavirus-SARS-CoV-
2?’ A catastrophe waiting to happen?
The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.
Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh
Justice Faez Isa: fighting the fog
Salman Akram Raja
The short order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan – of April 26, 2021 – rendered by a
majority of six with four honourable judges dissenting, in the review petitions filed by Justice
Faez Isa, Mrs Sarina Isa, the Pakistan Bar Council, the Supreme Court Bar Association and
the various high court bar associations across the country has been hailed as a triumph by the
overwhelming majority of the serious-minded in the legal profession.
It has been bemoaned by those close to the government as a victory of sentiment over
substance (see Raoof Hasan’s article on these pages on April 30), and has been spun
viciously on social media as the grant of immunity by a set of brother judges to one of their
own. It is said that the constitutional authority of the Supreme Judicial Council headed by the
honourable chief justice of Pakistan has been constrained. This is a sombre moment. One
must begin with the prosaic facts.
A residential property was purchased by Mrs Isa in London in 2004. Two further properties
were purchased by Mrs Isa and her adult children in 2013. The total purchase value of the
properties came to about 750,000 pounds. At the relevant times, funds were transferred
through official banking channels from a foreign currency account in Mrs Isa’s name in
Karachi to a foreign currency account in her name in London. Given the currency exchange
rates at the relevant times, this amount translates into one hundred and four million rupees.
Justice Isa, prior to his elevation as chief justice of the Balochistan High Court in 2009, was a
partner in one the most successful law firms in the country. He, however, has maintained
throughout that the properties are owned independently by his wife and adult children.
Mrs Sarina Isa owns ancestral, irrigated agricultural land totaling 173 acres in Sindh as well
as a substantial holding of land in Dera Murad Jamali, District Naseerabad, Balochistan. This
land forms part of a larger family holding that was cultivated and controlled by her father till
his passing away last year. Mrs Isa’s aggregate tax exempt agricultural income between 2004
and 2013 at the average rate of about Rs40,000 per acre per year, accumulated exempt
income prior to 2004, along with tax paid rent from her commercial properties, salary income
from her job at the Karachi American School and proceeds of sale of properties owned in
Karachi is more than sufficient to account for the 104 million rupees needed for the
acquisition of the 750,000 pounds that were transmitted by her to her account in London.
In order to maintain a charge against Mrs Isa, and to implicate Justice Isa, the Federal Board
of Revenue (FBR) has chosen to take the position that no income at all accrued to Mrs Isa
from her considerable holdings of agricultural land. This would be an astonishing position but
for the malice that has prompted it. A report filed by the FBR (the ‘FBR Report’) with the Supreme Judicial Council as directed by the majority order of the Honourable Supreme Court
of Pakistan – dated 19 June 19, 2020 – that has now been set aside in review, had justified
ignoring the tax-exempt agricultural income claimed by Mrs Isa on the ground that she had
not declared this income in her income tax returns for her other taxable income.
Whether or not Mrs Isa was required to declare her tax-exempt agricultural income in her
income tax returns is a matter that has been the subject of some debate. Mrs Isa’s tax adviser
Mr Rehan Naqvi, generally accepted as the leading tax expert of his era, had advised her
against such declaration. Be that as it may, non-declaration of tax-exempt agricultural income
had no tax payment consequences and the fact of non-declaration does not result in the
extinguishment of the income.
The FBR Report, declared non est by the order of April 26, had also refused to accept the
750,000 pounds transmitted by Mrs Isa as the source for the purchase of the London
properties on the ground that the bank officer making the transfers had described the purpose
of the transfers to be ‘support for the children’ and not ‘purchase of properties.’ This is at best
laughable. There was no bar at the time on the transmission of funds overseas for any
purpose. Declaration of a purpose by the bank was an administrative measure that was
executed in broad terms.
The London properties are in the names of Mrs Isa and her two children. Mrs Isa’s children,
while studying or in employment overseas, were not tax residents for much of the period
since 2003 and were not required to file returns in Pakistan. Mrs Isa filed returns when she
had taxable income in Pakistan. Mrs Isa’s position has been that she was not required to
declare her foreign assets prior to 2018. It was only after the insertion, through the Finance
Act 2018, of section 116A in the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 that resident taxpayers were
required to file a foreign income and assets statement. Mrs Isa complied with the law and
filed foreign wealth statements for the year 2018 and for the year 2019.
It would appear that during the latter half of the year 2018 the government decided to target
Justice Isa and look for something to pin against him. It is clear that no general probe of the
superior judiciary was initiated. Justice Isa was the solitary target. He had already delivered
his judgment about the apparent facilitation of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik dharna in 2017. The
lack of any mention of the London properties by Mrs Isa, prior to her filings for the tax year
2018, caught the eye of the sleuths engaged for this purpose. In normal circumstances, a
notice under the tax law could have been issued to Mrs Isa asking her to explain her
acquisition of property in London. In normal circumstances, the explanation based on the
bank transfers and the claim of agricultural income commensurate to the agricultural land
owned would have been accepted and the matter closed۔ In this case, no notice at all was issued to Mrs Isa by the relevant tax officer. The president of
Pakistan, on advice of the prime minister, proceeded with the filing of a presidential reference
before the Supreme Judicial Council for the removal of Justice Isa as judge of the Supreme
Court of Pakistan. This act of the president was unanimously declared mala fide by ten judges
of the Honourable Supreme Court on June 19, 2020. The presidential reference was quashed
and the shoddy legal work that had led to it was deprecated. Seven of the ten judges,
however, replaced the presidential reference with a judicial direction to the FBR to conduct
an ad-hoc inquiry into Mrs Isa’s acquisition of foreign properties and to place a report before
the Supreme Judicial Council for further action, if necessary.
This direction, in effect, granted a rebirth to the botched presidential reference. The coterie
responsible for the first round of malice against Justice Isa and his family got to work again
in producing the FBR Report. Non-compliant officers within the FBR were removed. It was
this direction that was challenged in review and has now been set aside. Consequently, the
FBR Report that was directed to be compiled by the order of the seven judges stands
Has the majority order in review of April 26 created immunity for Mrs Isa, and by extension
Justice Isa, against the due process of the law? Have the powers of the Supreme Judicial
Council been curtailed? Clearly not. Only the ad-hoc inquiry against Mrs Isa, outside the
processes prescribed by tax law, and the consequences of this inquiry, have been quashed. A
probe by the tax officer duly authorized under the terms of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001
is still possible. The concerned officer can issue a notice and receive a reply. As regards the
Supreme Judicial Council, all that the majority order of April 26 has said is that the quashed
FBR Report, having lost its legal existence, may not form the basis of any proceeding.
The fact that a dissent was recorded on April 26 by four honourable judges whose legal
acumen and concern for the dignity of the judicial branch is beyond dispute must remind
society at large of what resides at the heart of the judicial process. The act of interpreting the
law, in particular the constitution, can yield disparate outcomes, each equally sincere, as text
and perceived purpose are moulded by judicial minds into coherent outcomes. These
outcomes remain human achievements built on a lifetime of reflection from different vantage
The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Email: [email protected] com
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