By Salman Masood
The official, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who also received a lifetime ban from holding public office, is a close ally and confidant of the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party. Its main rival is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which is led by Imran Khan, a former cricketer.
The Muslim League has suffered a series of recent blows, including Mr. Sharif’s own dismissal from office last year and corruption inquiries into several of Mr. Sharif’s close aides. Mr. Sharif has accused the judiciary of bias, saying that while the courts have actively pursued cases against his loyalists, they have been lenient toward his political rivals.
The charges against Mr. Asif originated with a political rival from Mr. Asif’s home constituency in a district in eastern Pakistan. The rival, Usman Dar, filed a petition alleging that Mr. Asif possessed a work permit for the United Arab Emirates and had not disclosed it in election nomination papers. Under Pakistani law, a candidate has to disclose all foreign and local assets to be able to run for Parliament.
Justice Athar Minallah, who led a three-member panel of the Islamabad High Court, said in his decision that Mr. Asif was ineligible to hold public office because he had not fully disclosed his employment and salary with a firm in the Middle East. The court also relied on a controversial article of the Constitution requiring lawmakers to be “honest and righteous.”
Mr. Asif, a veteran politician who strongly favors civilian supremacy over the military’s traditional dominance in the country, promised an appeal to the Supreme Court. But political observers said it was unlikely to succeed.
The Supreme Court ousted Mr. Sharif in a controversial decision last year after a corruption investigation involving him and his two sons and daughter. The inquiry was initiated after disclosures made in the Panama Papers pointed to expensive residential properties in London owned by the Sharif family.
Mr. Sharif and his children deny any wrongdoing. In recent months, the judiciary, spearheaded by the chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar, has also taken an increasingly assertive role, which Mr. Sharif and his allies say is politically motivated. The elections are on July 15.
Mr. Sharif has also accused the country’s powerful military and judiciary of working together to have him ousted. Both the military and the judiciary deny the allegations. Mr. Sharif had tried unsuccessfully to impose civilian supremacy in areas long run by the powerful military, including foreign and defense policies.
Mr. Dar, the petitioner against Mr. Asif, belongs to Mr. Khan’s political party.
Mr. Khan has emerged as the biggest challenger to Mr. Sharif, especially in Punjab, the country’s most populous and prosperous province, which decides the fate of political parties during elections.