ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A Pakistani court disqualified Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif from parliament on Thursday, giving another blow to the ruling Pakistan-Nawaz Muslim League (PML-N) party before the general elections to be held inside a few months.
Supreme Court verdict Islamabad against Asif is one of several judicial setbacks for the PML-N since the Supreme Court eliminated the founder of the Nawaz Sharif party as prime minister in July.
Asif told Geo TV that he would challenge the decision in the Supreme Court. It was not clear if he would have to relinquish control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as he could remain in charge as an adviser to the prime minister.
Asif, a close ally of Sharif, is one of the PML-N's high-profile figures in the government and was one of the names chosen to replace Sharif when the three-time prime minister was disqualified by the Supreme Court for some undeclared income.
Sharif and other senior PML-N officials have complained that the judiciary is targeting the party before the general elections, which are expected in July.
Usman Dar, a rival politician from Asif's constituency in the city of Sialkot, near the Indian border, filed a petition against Asif to disqualify him for possession of an "iqama", a work permit for the Arab Emirates United (United Arab Emirates).
The court ruled that Asif did not fully disclose his status as an employee of a United Arab Emirates company and, therefore, was not "qualified" to be in parliament.
The court dismissed him using article 62 of the constitution, which stipulates that parliamentarians must be "honest and fair" and that it was also used to expel Sharif.
"We have issued this judgment with a heavy heart," the Islamabad High Court said in its verdict.
"Not only because an experienced and experienced political figure is disqualified, but even more so because the dreams and aspirations of 342,125 registered voters have suffered a setback," the court added, referring to Sialkot voters.
Sharif, speaking shortly after the verdict against Asif was announced, urged party workers to mobilize before the election no matter what happens in the courts.
Sharif and some members of his family face a trial ordered by the Supreme Court in an anti-corruption court, which is expected to make a decision next month. Sharif could face prison if convicted.
Sharif denies any wrongdoing.
"Even if I go to jail, nobody should be discouraged," he said.
Asif Shahzad's additional report; Written by Drazen Jorgic; Edition by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie