Amidst the controversy and legal cases against former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the Toshakhana case, the government of PM Shehbaz Sharif recently released the 466-page record of Toshakhana from 2002 to 2023 on the website of the Cabinet Division. According to the details released on the website, Pervez Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz, Yousuf Raza Gilani, Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, and Imran Khan took away hundreds of gifts when they were in power. In fact, one report claims that from Nawaz Sharif to Imran Khan, all the former rulers left only one thing in the Toshakhana and that is nine books that were gifted to them. If this allegation is true, it reflects the absolute depravity of those who come to power in Pakistan.
None of the rulers took these books while going home. These books were sent to the library later. This is the extreme level of intellectual and moral depravity and corruption that Pakistan has fallen to and necklaces, watches and many other expensive gifts have not been found in the Toshakhana. This is the real face of almost all the rulers of Pakistan and legislation has been resorted to for self-protection. As one commentator notes, in the civilized world, people are given facilities and privileges in return for taking taxes, but in Pakistan the rich do not pay taxes! The Toshakhana department, established in 1974, stores gifts and other expensive items received by Pakistani public officials. Its rules make it compulsory for officials to report the gifts and other such materials received by them to the Cabinet Division. Only the President and the Prime Minister are exempt and can keep gifts that cost less than Pakistani Rupee (PKR) 30,000. They can also retain the expensive gifts from Toshakhana by paying a certain percentage of their value assessed by the government.
Notably, clerics of the Darul Uloom Jamia Naeemia, Lahore has decreed that the law of Toshakhana is ‘illegal’, adding that it was against Shariah to purchase gifts from Toshakhana at a lower price. The clerics have claimed the gifts were not the personal property of an individual, but the trust of a country and the nation. They should be utilized for public welfare. This latest edict comes after the Cabinet Division released the 21-year record of Toshakhana on its website. Amongst those who issued the edict are clerics of the Darul Uloom Jamia Naeemia Lahore, including Dr Raghib Naeemi, who is also a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Sheikh Mufti Muhammad Imran Hanafi, Mufti Muhammad Nadeem Qamar, Mufti Muhammad Arif Hussain and Mufti Faisal Nadeem Shazli.
The decree states that as per Islamic law, gifts, big or small, are property of the state and should be collected in the official treasury. They declared that purchasing the Toshakhana items at a lower price was against Shariah law. The decree states that Prophet Muhammad has warned against retaining of a gift by a government official. According to the Hadiths, the gifts presented to a government official are meant to be deposited in the state repository, the decree stated. Purchasing Toshakhana gifts at a lower price is akin to betrayal and breaking of trust, it added. The clerics said the Chief Justice should play his role in amending the law pertaining to the state repository.
The Toshakhana reference case has been at the centre of the news after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) ordered the expulsion of Imran Khan as a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly and ordered criminal proceedings against the former Prime Minister. The issue arose when Imran Khan, who became Prime Minister in 2018, refused to disclose details of the many presents he had received during his time in office on demand from a journalist under the Right To Information (RTI) law. The request was declined by the PTI-controlled central government citing concerns that doing so would severely impact relations with other countries.
The journalist then lodged a complaint with the Federal Information Commission (FIC) after the Cabinet Division refused to disclose the Toshakhana details of Imran Khan. The FIC instructed the Cabinet Division to furnish it as per the RTI. However, the Imran Khan-led government failed to comply with the directive, prompting the requesting party to approach the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to enforce the FIC’s decision. In April 2022, the IHC had ordered the government to furnish the information, but before it could process, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) took over from the Imran Khan administration.
Subsequently, details of Imran Khan’s Toshakhana action were leaked to the media. On 4 August 2022, Members of the National Assembly (MNA) from the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), part of the new ruling alliance of the PML-N government in Pakistan, filed a reference with the Speaker of the National Assembly, seeking ousted PM’s disqualification as a member of the assembly as well. The reference alleged that the Prime Minister had failed to declare the money earned from the sale of the gifts in his statement of assets and liabilities, which all legislators are required to submit annually to the ECP.
In a disclosure letter to the ECP, the former Prime Minister admitted to selling four presents from Toshakhana but claimed that he bought them from the government by paying a percentage of their value. According to a Dawn report, in a letter to ECP Khan admitted that he sold the gifts at a premium and used the proceeds to construct an approach road to his Banigala residence.
On 21 October 2022, Imran Khan was disqualified from the National Assembly for five years by the ECP after he was found guilty of concealing facts about selling expensive gifts. A four-member bench, headed by Pakistan’s Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja, announced the verdict according to it criminal proceedings were to be initiated against Imran Khan for misdeclaration. Despite increasing the retention amount from 20% to 50% of the assessed value under his regime, Imran Khan retained some of the most expensive gifts at a rate of 20%. As a result, the average retention amount paid by him on all gifts over a period of about three years worked out to be just 27%, Dawn newspaper quoting ECP reported.
As per ECP estimates, Khan made a profit of PKR 104.78 million on the gifts he retained and sold. The ECP also stated that Imran Khan did the transactions of gifts from Toshakhana following the procedure for acceptance and disposal of gifts. However, the expulsion by ECP was necessitated based on the reference from lawmakers as the PTI chief had “intentionally and deliberately” broken the laws. Pakistan is thus a bankrupt nation with a bankrupt polity. Corruption is at a level unseen before and the Toshakhana disclosures demonstrate the complete disregard of rules and regulations. In a sense, Imran Khan is only the tip of the iceberg. The Toshakhana reference case against Imran Khan provided the excuse to the PDM government to disqualify the former PM. However, the larger malaise afflicting Pakistan’s polity needs a surgical strike, otherwise it will be too late to save the country.