ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s Election Commission on Friday disqualified former Prime Minister Imran Khan from holding public office for five years, accusing him of illegally selling state gifts and concealing assets, his spokesman and officials said. The move is likely to deepen the ongoing political unrest in the impoverished country.
Fawad Chaudhry told reporters that Pakistan’s Election Commission has announced the long-awaited verdict in the capital Islamabad. Chaudhry condemned the move and urged Khan’s supporters to protest publicly.
Officials and legal experts said Khan will lose his seat in the National Assembly under the verdict. Balkh Ser Khosa, a prominent lawyer, said the commission disqualified Khan from holding public office for illegally selling state gifts given to him by other countries when he was in power. He said Khan also hid the profits he made from those sales from the tax authorities.
The latest decision comes months after parliament impeached Khan through a vote of no confidence.
His party Tehreek-e-Insaf was outraged at Khan’s disqualification and urged his supporters to take to the streets to peacefully condemn the decision of the committee the party expected from Khan.
Dozens of Khan’s supporters were seen chanting slogans at the election commission on Friday against the government and authorities. Hundreds of others blocked a major road in the northwestern city of Peshawar, disrupting traffic. Khan’s supporters also held small gatherings in major cities across the country.
Khan’s hundreds of supporters briefly clashed with police in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. However, according to local media, the protesters dispersed as police brandished batons and fired tear gas canisters. The government deployed additional security forces in Islamabad to maintain law and order.
Justice Minister Azam Nazir Tarar confirmed that the commission found Khan guilty of the charges. Tarar said Khan has been disqualified from holding public office for five years.
The final step comes days before Khan was expected to announce his much-anticipated march to Islamabad to force Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government to hold snap elections.
Sharif’s coalition government filed a petition with the Election Commission demanding action against Khan on charges of illegally selling state gifts he received from heads of state when he was in power.
Since his ouster, Khan has claimed that his government was overthrown by Sharif over an American plot.
Sharif and Washington have both denied the allegation.
Shortly after Khan’s disqualification, Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari wrote on Twitter of Khan: “He who would spread lies about alleged corruption of his political opponents has been caught in the act.”
Khan came to power by winning the 2018 vote and has demanded snap elections. Sharif’s government rejected Khan’s demand and says the next election will take place next year as planned.
Khan initially enjoyed excellent ties with his army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. But he opposed the appointment of a new spy chief by Bajwa, who wanted to replace Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, the director-general of Inter-Services Intelligence. Eventually Bajwa Khan’s favorite spy head removed Hameed, causing a rift between Khan and Bajwa and eventually leading to his ouster.
The military has ruled Pakistan directly for more than half of its 75 years.