In accordance with the Lahore High Court’s orders, the federal government has declassified the record of Toshakhana’s gifts dating back to 2002. This is the first time in history that the government has made this list public, which is undoubtedly a welcome development given the lack of justification for keeping the record secret. The Toshakhana record details who has retained gifts given to government officials, presidents, prime ministers, bureaucrats, and even journalists, as well as who has sent them to the Toshakhana repository after paying the minimum cost required by law after an evaluation of the gift’s worth by the Cabinet Division.
The Toshakhana scandal arose several years ago when a journalist decided to investigate former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Toshakhana records. As a result, Imran Khan finally declared the income he earned by selling the Toshakhana gifts he had kept but did not declare. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) disqualified Imran Khan for failing to share details of Toshakhana gifts and proceeds from their sale while he was prime minister.
In all of this, the government and even the media have largely forgotten that the Imran Khan Toshakhana case is somewhat perplexing for the majority of people. The case against Imran is about the misdeclaration of assets—in this case, the Toshakhana gifts—which is why Imran was disqualified under Article 63(1)(p) of the constitution read with Sections 137, 167, and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017. Another point of contention is the order in which the gifts were sold and whether the payment to the Toshakhana was made before or after the gifts were sold. The issue has never been one of legally obtaining or selling gifts from the Toshakhana, but rather that Imran did not declare them as a parliamentarian.
The PTI has embraced the Toshakhana list of retained gifts, some of which are rather embarrassing, in its usual style, demonstrating once again how well the party can spin an event to its advantage. There is little opposition from the government, which suits a media-savvy PTI perfectly. The truth is that, however morally and ethically murky the Toshakhana record may be, legally keeping the gifts is permissible.
Remember that there is already a NAB reference against Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari for retaining expensive cars from Toshakhana, and that former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is accused of assisting Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif in this regard. The real problem here is the law that governs the Toshakhana. The rules for retaining Toshakhana gifts in Pakistan are quite lax. Some countries permit public auctions of gifts at market value, while others send them to official museums.
The sole benefit of this saga is that it will make it easier to evaluate Toshakhana’s gifts. The gifts should be appraised at market value and then sold to the recipient at the same price, or at least at more than the 50% required now. There must be an independent valuation authority so that expensive and valuable gifts, such as the Graff watch given to Imran, can be valued at market value.
A rule should also prohibit the retention of valuable and rare gifts, which should instead be displayed, as they are in the United States at the National Archive and in Switzerland at the National Museum Zurich. It is a little disturbing that our rulers need to be reminded that these gifts are not given to them by states and state officials out of personal friendship; they are gifts given to representatives of Pakistan by other states. As a result, only the state of Pakistan has authority over these gifts and their monetary value.