ISLAMABAD - The way the interior ministry has removed the name of Zulfi Bukhari, a close aide and main financier to PTI Chairman Imran Khan, from the no-fly list has raised serious questions over the impartiality of the caretaker interior minister Azam Khan at a time when his ministry has a key role in the smooth conduct of general elections.

The quick action of the caretaker minister that forced the ministry to take only minutes to remove the name of Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari alias Zulfi Bukhari from the Exit Control List (ECL) also shows the clear leaning of Azam Khan towards Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

The interior ministry has a crucial role in the smooth and transparent conduct of July 25 elections as it has not only oversight role but also has overall responsibility of coordination among all police departments and other paramilitary forces for the security of 2018 elections.

The impartiality of caretaker interior minister becomes questionable more as according to the official website of Imran Khan Foundation (IKF), a non-government organisation established by PTI chief himself, shows that Azam Khan is also among the members of Board of Directors of the Foundation.

The IKF website says that Azam Khan, “a Barrister-at-Law from Lincoln’s Inn, brings a wealth of public administration and philanthropic experience to the IKF Board.”

Caretaker Prime Minister Justice (r) Nasirul Mulk has taken notice of the matter of removing Bukhari’s name from the ECL and sought a report from the interior ministry.

The National Accountability Bureau had got the name of Zulfi Bukhari placed on the ECL by requesting the interior ministry after it opened a case of having offshore companies against the close aide to PTI chief.

“We are probing a case against Zulfi Bukhari for allegedly having offshore companies and for surfacing his name in Panama Papers,” an official of NAB’s Rawalpindi Region said.

He said that the bureau had serious reservations over the decision of the interior ministry to permit Bukhari to fly abroad. “The ministry at least should have taken us into confidence,” he added.

On the other hand, PTI claims that NAB could not start an investigation of having offshore companies against Bukhari as he is a British citizen.

On June 11, Imran Khan was about to leave for Suadi Arabia to perform Umrah along with his wife Bushra Wattoo, Zulfi Bukhari, PTI leader Aleem Khan and his wife Kiran Aleem and Political Secretary to PTI Chairman Awn Chaudhry through a special chartered plane when the immigration authorities at Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto Airport stopped Bukhari for being his name on the no fly list. This perturbed Imran as he was not ready to fly for Saudi Arabia without Bukhari.

The official sources in the ministry informed that a phone call to the interim minister made Bukhari get one-time permission from the ministry to fly abroad.

Some officials in the ministry view that Imran Khan personally made a call to the minister to remove his close aide’s name from the list.

Even the ministry did not follow the due process to give Bukhari six days permission to leave the country, as in normal cases the ministry takes three to four days to process such applications.

The June 11 notification issued by the ministry and addressed to the Director General Immigration and Passports says: “It has been decided to grant one-time permission to Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari son of Syed Wajid Hussain Bukhari… for a period of 06 days.”

The letter further says that DG Immigration & Passports is requested to take further necessary action accordingly under intimation to this ministry and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

A detailed questionnaire was sent to the interim interior minister on his personal cell phone and through Yasir Shakeel, the Director Media of the interior ministry but no response came till the filing of this story.

The minister was asked all the questions raised in this story. Shakeel only said that he could respond only after getting reply from the minister.

However, an official of the interior ministry said that it was not the first time that a person had been given one-time permission to fly abroad as the authorities at the ministry had been giving such permissions in the past too.

“This is the discretionary power of the interior minister and the secretary interior,” he said, adding that in one-time permission cases the ministry never informed the department on whose direction the person had been placed on ECL.

He however further said that the ministry excludes the name of any person permanently either with the court permission or after taking into confidence the relevant department.

Under the ECL policy, a committee under the chairmanship of secretary interior works at the interior ministry to decide all the applications for exclusion of names from ECL.

Zulfi Bukhari’s name was mentioned in Panama Papers along with many family members for having a number of offshore companies that were used to buy and sell many properties.

NAB had started inquiry against him and sent him at least three notices which he did not respond despite reminders.

Zulfi Bukhari is nephew of PTI MPA from Attock, and member of Imran Khan’s kitchen cabinet. He shot into limelight first when Imran and Dr Qadir along with Chaudhrys of Gujrat reportedly met to plan the 2014 D-Chowk sit-in and long march in his London office – which was first proper attempt to dislodge the Nawaz Sharif government.

He is said to have come more close to Imran after he hired forensic firms for the PTI in London to investigate business details of Hasan Nawaz Sharif, son of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Bukhari was also among the trusted witnesses, along with PTI’s Awn Chaudhry, when Imran Khan got married to Bushra Wattoo on January 1, 2018 in Lahore.

Presently, Zulfi Bukhari is also in the news since he has served a legal notice in connection to a forthcoming book.