The more than a year-long tussle between the Sindh government and civil society activists over the removal of Inspector General of Police A.D. Khowaja seemed all but over on Wednesday, after the PML-N controlled federal cabinet stepped in to approve his replacement with the PPP-approved Sardar Abdul Majeed Dasti, DawnNews reported.
The appointment of a new IG for Sindh had been on the agenda of today's meeting of the federal cabinet, with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the chair.
A minister present in the meeting told DawnNews that the cabinet has approved the appointment of Dasti, a grade-22 police officer, as IG Sindh to replace incumbent IG Khowaja.
Khowaja’s differences with PPP bigwigs on issues relating to the removal/posting of police officials before by-elections in some constituencies; his stance on a businessman said to be a close associate of PPP leader Asif Zardari; and his concerns regarding recruitment in the police department were no secret.
Senior police officials who spoke to Dawn on the condition of anonymity said the move seems to have been a power play aimed at ensuring that the PPP had "a trusted man" at the helm of the province's police force with the general elections around the corner.
Some pointed to more personal vendettas.
"The PPP leadership wanted to show and prove to the IGP [A.D. Khowaja] that he could not confront them and survive," claimed one officer. Another said that, "Certain business partners of Asif Ali Zardari had ego issues [with Khowaja's continuation in office]."
One police officer said the Sindh government had been irked by Khowaja's posting of officers on merit, and "For stopping the forced sale of sugarcane at cheap rates to sugar mills owned by bigwigs in the Sindh government."
However, a spokesperson for Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah insisted that the government had only recommended Dasti "as he was senior and a grade-22 official."
The Sindh government had certainly gone out of its way to replace IG Khowaja with a police chief of its own liking.
It had on two previous occasions tried and failed to remove IG Khowaja from his post: first in December 2016, when it sent him on forced leave; and then in April 2017, when it surrendered his services to the federal government and appointed Dasti, then also in grade-21, as the provincial police chief.
Various civil society organisations, however, had approached the Sindh High Court against the removal of Khowaja and on Sept 7 the court ruled that the IGP would complete his term, which could not “under any circumstances be reduced to less than three years” if the provincial government amended or altered the rules at any time.
The provincial government and the PPP bigwigs were not happy with the court's decision.
Sindh Services Secretary Mohammad Riazuddin, while briefing the cabinet on the PPP's case against Khowaja last year, changed tack to insist that the IGP was a grade-22 post, but Khowaja was a grade-21 officer. Dasti had meanwhile been promoted to grade-22.
Recalling that Khowaja had been posted on March 12, 2016 on an own-pay-scale (OPS) basis, He said that the Supreme Court had returned all officers posted on an OPS basis to their original posts and, therefore, the posting of IG Khowaja was in violation of the apex court’s orders.
IG Khowaja, however, had argued that he had been posted as the Sindh police chief with the consent of the provincial government by the federal government. The apex court’s judgement on OPS officials had been known at that point, which showed that the Centre had been mindful of the fact and still chosen to appoint him.
He had also pointed out that since 2005, some 17 IGs had been posted in Sindh of which 14 were grade-21 officers. Only three officers were in grade-22, he had added.
He had further highlighted that the IGPs in all the provinces and the director general of the Federal Investigation Agency all were grade-21 officers. It was only recently, he remarked, that the Punjab IG was promoted to grade-22.
He said this pattern showed that there was no hard and fast rule to post an official of either grade-21 or grade-22 as the IGP.
Under its new strategy, the Sindh government had last week forwarded a panel of three grade-22 officers to the federal government to 'pick' a new IG from, while making it clear that it only considered Dasti the "most appropriate choice" for the post as the other two candidates were serving tenure on other high-level positions and "lacked experience: about the dynamics of Sindh.
Meanwhile, civil society groups had complained that Sindh's single-minded insistence on pushing the centre to appoint Dasti as the new provincial police chief reeked of "favouritism".
Terming Dasti a "politicised appointee", they had argued that the appointment of Dasti as the IG had already been struck down once by the Sindh High Court in its judgement of Sept 07, 2017, when it had ruled that Khowaja should continue to serve as the provincial police chief till his tenure expires.