ISLAMABAD: An inquiry report exposing those responsible for the saga of 20 presiding officers’ disappearance during the February by-election in Daska has found that election officials and government functionaries acted as “puppets in the hands of their unlawful masters”.

The inquiry report compiled by the Punjab Joint Election Commissioner, a copy of which is available with Dawn, not only indicated that they did not play their designated roles in the requisite manner but also identified Sialkot Colleges Deputy Director Mohammad Iqbal Kaloya for his involvement in the meetings at Daska’s Assistant Commissioner’s House, which were meant for manipulating the election process.

Former special assistant to the chief minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Ali Abbas, Zeeshan Javed, Asif Hussain, Mohammad Awais and some other persons attended the meetings.

Former aide to Punjab CM identified among participants of the meetings held at AC House

The fact-finding inquiry was launched after the Daska by-poll was marred by rigging, violence and disappearance of 20 presiding officers (POs). The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) subsequently withheld the results and ordered re-election in the NA-75 constituency.

Mr Kaloya, the report said, illegally summoned the POs to the office of Nawaz Cheema, the principal of the Government Degree College for Boys, Daska, to pass on directives to slow down the voting process to keep it below 25 per cent in the Daska city area, and not to interfere in what is done by the district administration and police, according to the inquiry report.

The report found police officers and officials played an absurd role in the by-election. It not only identified their failure in providing protection to the staff and to the polling material, but also questioned if the police conspired, maligned and consequently annulled the whole by-election. After an analysis of various statements of the inquiry proceedings, it could be induced that the police were either under the influence of a constant force that guided them or they deliberately remained blind to whatever was happening around them.

The report stated: “Circumstantial evidences, written statements of some POs, senior assistant presiding officers (SAPOs), most of the drivers, very few of the police personnel and call detail record (CDR) data from Pakistan Telecommunication Authority clearly proved that the aforesaid POs under some planned scheme left their respective polling stations in private vehicles and reached Sialkot by staying first at the police stations of Qila Kalar Wala/Satra, office of the DSP, Pasrur and Mundeke etc. after nearly 8:30pm. They remained at some unknown building situated at Shahabpura/Ugoke Road near Zohra Hospital for more than seven hours and after that they were transported under police security to office of the RO at Jaisarwala. Before reaching their destination, all the POs were shifted in police vans from Toyota Hiace and finally they reached the RO office.”

It referred to geo-coordinate mapping from the RO office to the polling station and back, based on the CDR data provided by the PTA, to state that all the 20 POs deviated from their actual route to reach their respective polling stations from the RO office on Feb 18 and took the Pasrur-Sialkot Road.

After arriving in Sialkot, they all stayed at some suspicious place near Zohra Hospital at Ugoke Road in the Shahabpura area for long hours. Then they started their journey nearly at 4am on Feb 20.

The overall findings pertaining to different stakeholders of the NA-75 by-poll found lack of coordination between the RO, DRO and DMO; both RO and DRO were relying on their assistant ROs and ministerial staff for the discharge of different election tasks; the district administration was in the loop regarding all the incidents at some level; the district police were also aware of the incidents that took place on the day of poll and they either willfully or halfheartedly became part and parcel in its execution; and the education department officials were also involved in the incidents.

The inquiry report found the POs and some officers of the education department were fully involved in jeopardising the fair, free and transparent by-election due to the reasons best known to them though the element of monitory benefits at different stages could not be ruled out.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2021

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