FORMER CRICKET STAR CLEARED OF PROPERTY FRAUD

PAKISTAN’S supreme court dis­missed a graft case against cricketerturnedopposition leader Imran Khan last Friday (15), ensuring he will contest a gen­eral election due next year, just months after the same body ousted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Khan faced being disqualified from holding political office over charges including unreported as­sets, namely the funds he used to buy a sprawling property in the Bani Gala hills on the outskirts of the capital Islamabad.

He dismissed the claims as a political vendetta, saying he used money earned from his career as one of Pakistan’s most famous World Cup cricketers to buy the land and that he has the docu­mentation to prove it.

“No omission or dishonesty can be attributed to him. This petition has no merits and is dis­missed accordingly,” chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar said.

Shortly after the judgement Khan held a press conference in Karachi where he told reporters “Pakistan’s highest court has ex­onerated me”.

“The taxpayers and those who earn their money through fair means and pay taxes should not be compared with the robbers and thieves,” Khan added.

Pakistan has been rocked by military coups and instability for much of its 70-year history. The general election due in 2018 will only be its second ever demo­cratic transition.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-In­saf (PTI) party, which already holds northwestern Khyber Pa­khtunkhwa province, hopes to capitalise on Sharif’s ousting and the disarray of his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to gain seats.

However, few observers of Pa­kistan’s volatile politics are will­ing to predict with any certainty who will win the election.

Sharif swiftly installed party loyalist Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister after the court sacked him in late July following a corruption investigation spurred by the Panama Papers leak.

But Abbasi is widely seen as a placeholder as Sharif himself has refused to relinquish leadership of the party, despite being barred from contesting elections, leav­ing the PML-N floundering.

Its weakness was brutally ex­posed last month when it was forced to capitulate to the de­mands of small and previously unknown Islamist group that had held a weeks-long sit-in in the capital to demand the resigna­tion of the federal law minister over claims linked to blasphemy.

Pakistan’s third major party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, has seen its fortunes plunge since its leader and the country’s first fe­male prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated a dec­ade ago on December 27, 2007.

Her 29-year-old son Bilawal, now chairman of the party, is try­ing to revive its political fortunes, but few are gambling on it regain­ing its previous status in time for the polls. (AFP)