Wednesday, November 9, 2011

PTI's financial scruples

Daily Times
Thursday, November 10, 2011

COMMENT: PTI’s financial scruples —Dr Mohammad Taqi

If one red US cent goes towards putting a US soldier in harm’s way, that does not reflect well on the US officials who had been cosying up to Imran Khan and had a meeting with him just before the Lahore rally

In the wake of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) rally at Minar-e-Pakistan Lahore last month a flurry of reports and opinions has appeared. These perspectives range from laudatory and supportive of the PTI and its leader Imran Khan to strong criticism and downright condemnation. A lot of information and perhaps disinformation has been circulating on the traditional and contemporary media about the financial disclosures of the PTI and indeed, of its leader.

Ali Aftab, the lead vocalist of the band Beygairat Brigade, whose single ‘Aaloo Anday’ has been a hit political satire, took a crack at it in a contemporary this past weekend. Aftab wrote: “Imran Khan is very determined about keeping a check on the assets of the current political figures. But shouldn’t these good intentions begin at home? A well-known political analyst from PTI said that Imran’s annual income culminates to 2 crores from which he donates around 1 crore to Shaukat Khanum and other non-profit institutions. But one can’t but have conjectures about where the dough is coming from for all his campaigning”. Aftab also asked as to who picked up the tab for the logistics including the fanfare, musical entertainment and floodlighting at the PTI’s very successful event.

But even before the PTI’s Lahore rally a lot questions were being asked about the party’s resources to support its high-profile anti-government and anti-United States campaign. Several media people, especially in informal interactions on the social media, have pointed finger towards the PTI drawing financial support from its foreign and domestic patrons, including the Pakistani establishment. Others have raised concern if funds from Imran Khan’s philanthropic projects were diverted to shore up his political fortunes. A media anchor who had tweeted about whether funds from Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital (SKMH), were going towards the PTI, was apparently being threatened by the PTI-walas. On the other hand, senior editor and seasoned analyst, Najam Sethi had tweeted:” FACT: Public donated Rs. 3 bn (billion) to Imran’s ‘flood relief fund’. Qs: How much was spent? On what? Where is the balance? Public has a right to know.”

In my last column I maintained that there is no reason to doubt Imran Khan’s personal financial integrity and so far I have not seen anything that will change my opinion. But what I have noticed is that there are several genuine questions that have either not been handled well by the PTI and its leaders or answered in a way that added to the confusion rather than clearing the fog over their financial scruples.

For example, one of the newest converts to the PTI, Mian Muhammad Azhar had, ostensibly, remarked on a recent television show – the YouTube clips of which have now mysteriously disappeared- that Imran Khan does raise funds (simultaneously) for the SKMH and the PTI. A prominent anchor and former information secretary of the PTI, Nasim Zehra, despite her kid-glove treatment of Imran Khan in a recent interview, was forced to ask about his personal assets and property. Even though Ms Zehra did not ask pertinent follow up questions, Imran Khan was visibly antsy answering queries about his financial propriety.

The fact is that the media people are not the only ones concerned about the mixing of philanthropy and politics to the extent where it becomes hard to tell one apart from the other. My considered opinion is that SKMH funding remains squeaky clean and it would be highly inappropriate to cast aspersion on that wonderful humanitarian service. There, however, remains a serious issue with how Imran Khan has over the years used the SKMH platform and its fundraisers to peddle his brand of anti-politician politics. About a year ago, at an SKMH charity dinner in Houston, he went on his usual drivel against the Pakistani politicians and especially the President Asif Zardari. A Pakistani-American doctor subsequently got up and protested very vocally that they were there to raise money for a good cause and not to listen to Imran Khan’s political spiel.

In the interest of maintaining his own good name and that of the stellar charities that Imran Khan has championed, he must not wait for someone to call an audit by saying “ mera ihtisaab kar leiN ” (I am ready for accountability). If he had a transaction where his ex-wife gifted him a 300 kanal land parcel, rather than a transfer transaction entailing potentially higher fees and taxes, he should declare the details of the deal. Similarly, if there is a legitimate reason for him to have declared his ancestral properties at their fifty year-old value, the people should be taken into confidence about it.

Another important disclosure that Imran Khan has been remiss in making is his political fundraising and lobbying outside Pakistan. For example, the PTI is registered in the US under the Foreign Agent Registration Act 1938, with the stated objectives of organizing the party, lobbying the elected and appointed US functionaries and above all for fundraising for political purposes. Pervez Musharraf’s APML and the MQM are the only other Pakistani parties similarly registered in the US.

Imran Khan is a frequent flyer to the US and shortly before his Lahore rally he raised 140,000 dollars for PTI at two events in Florida. Now what the PTI USA does is perfectly legitimate and according to the US law as they operate under a US tax identification number and maintain a bank account in the US. But the waters become murky when the US taxpayers’ (in this case predominantly Pakistani-Americans) money is channelized to PTI Pakistan and potentially used for whipping up anti-American hysteria there. Chiding the US Secretary of State, as “Chaachi Clinton” can be conceded as just political theater. However, it gets trickier when the PTI puts the US service men and women at risk by blocking the NATO supply lines in Pakistan, which it has done at least twice this year.

If one red US cent goes towards putting a US soldier in harm’s way, that does not reflect well on the US officials who had been cozying up to Imran Khan and had a meeting with him just before the Lahore rally. The PTI’s anti-US leader – like many politicos he detests - is perhaps oblivious to the ethical dimension of biting off the hand that has been steadily feeding him. Regardless, he must become the change he wants to see and answer questions about the PTI and his own financial scruples. It would only raise his stature not harm it.