Governor calls on army to help end crisis in Punjab

Published May 6, 2022
A combination photo of Punjab Governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema (R) and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. — DawnNewsTV/File
A combination photo of Punjab Governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema (R) and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. — DawnNewsTV/File

• Cheema to send reference against LHC judge to SJC over decision on Hamza’s oath by NA speaker
• HRCP regrets governor’s letter, law minister terms it ‘unbecoming’

LAHORE: Despite the armed forces repeatedly refusing to be pushed into the country’s perpetual political quagmire, Punjab Governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema has sought the army’s intervention to lead the province out of the crises plaguing it for months. He has also decided to send a reference against Lahore High Court’s Justice Jawad Hassan to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) for an “illegal decision” of asking the National Assembly speaker to administer the oath to the then chief minister-elect Hamza Shehbaz.

On Thursday, the governor wrote a letter to Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, requesting him to play a defining role in the current chaotic times, as he was of the opinion that the constitutional crisis-ridden Punjab has been held hostage.

With the letter, the governor also attached the separate letters he wrote to the president and prime minister — the latter sent just before writing to Gen Bajwa. “Both these letters encompass my real anxiety and dilemmas on the constitutional impasse faced by this country, particularly the province of Punjab,” he wrote.

In his letter to PM Shehbaz Sharif, the Punjab governor accused Hamza of taking advantage of being the son of the premier in getting himself elected as the CM. He accused the Punjab bureaucracy of extending full support during the CM’s election on April 16 to ensure Hamza was elected, and also chided the premier for occupying the highest office through an “unconstitutional exercise”.

Mr Cheema has urged the army chief to help restore the constitutional framework by reposing trust in the people, who are honest, fair and entitled to be trusted in the form of federal and provincial governments of Pakistan.

The governor has already expressed anxiety over his stated stance that the oath administered to Hamza Shehbaz as chief minister, his consequent notification and de-notification of the former chief executive, Usman Buzdar, were illegal.

He alleged that Hamza, using the powers of his father Shehbaz Sharif being the prime minister, had even held Governor House hostage to hold the oath-taking ceremony on April 30. The governor claimed that even he was not allowed to enter the premises that day.

Condemning the supposed desecration of law and the Constitution in a series of tweets, Mr Cheema eventually tweeted, “If the COAS provides me with one subedar and four army jawans, I will personally get the unconstitutional, illegal and fake chief minister (Hamza Shehbaz) arrested and throw him in jail.”

In earlier tweets, he wrote that he had clarified in his statement the kind of intervention he expected and what was needed. “I would have appealed to the public if I was not the governor,” he said.

Mr Cheema, however, added that political parties had always demanded the [intervention of army’s] 111 Brigade in the past. “I have just asked for four jawans and a subedar.”

He further said the province, which was facing a constitutional and legal crisis, had been “taken hostage by force” and called the political parties’ silence “very concerning”. He sounded a word of caution that if all of them had accepted the “Hamza Shehbaz formula” for becoming the chief minister, other provinces should be concerned about themselves.

He also said if those who had “insulted the Constitution and the law by force” were protected then anyone could take over a constitutional office the same way in the future. Mr Cheema said he had always demanded a “neutral umpire” in his 26-year-long political career, elaborating that a “neutral umpire” ensured a level playing field for all sides, otherwise he could not be called “neutral” and the game would not be fair.

Since the governor is adamant that the Constitution had been defiled in the political events during the entire month of April, on the first day of Eidul Fitr on Tuesday he tweeted that he had sent an Eid gift to the leaders of the ruling coalition. “I have sent the Constitution of Pakistan to the political leaders as an Eid gift who are making foolish statements or expressing their anguish without reading the document.”

Posting tweet after tweet on all three days of Eid, he promised the nation that he would continue fighting the “Sicilian mafia” and soon get the offices vacated by the “illegal and unconstitutional” chief minister in Punjab.

Letter to PM

Before writing to the army chief, the same day Governor Cheema, in his two-page letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on the “constitutional impasse and political crisis in Punjab” explained the predicament emanating from former CM Buzdar’s ‘disputed’ resignation to the PML-N getting the support of PTI dissidents and winning the CM’s election. He said Hamza took advantage of being the son of the prime minister in this “unconstitutional struggle”.

In this entire saga, the governor regretted that the political parties and civil servants had failed to appreciate that the Constitution was totally silent as to how in such a situation a claimant to the position was to be administered oath.

In fact, he wrote, “the bureaucracy of Punjab, led by Chief Secretary Kamran Ali Afzal, and the inspector general of police have played a heinous role”. The officers withdrew all strength from the office of the governor and allowed the premises of Governor House to be denied all security and assistance. He alleged that the chief secretary distorted facts and exerted pressure on the office of the governor to allow the oath to Hamza, while knowing well the “unholy circumstances of the disputed election”.

He also accused the chief secretary and the IGP of extending full support during the CM’s election on April 16 to ensure Hamza returned as elected. Cheema also chided the premier, accusing him of indulging in an unconstitutional exercise to occupy the highest office and exposing Pakistan to immense political crisis and chaos.

Earlier, in the six-page letter he wrote to the president on April 23, the governor had sought Dr Arif Alvi’s advice for resolving the issue of the disputed election of the Punjab chief minister at the Punjab Assembly as well as the resignation of outgoing CM Buzdar, which was typed and addressed to the prime minister and not to the office of the governor as required under Article 130(8) of the Constitution.

The governor later called Buzdar’s resignation the real “fitna” (mischief) behind the constitutional crisis in Punjab. In the letter, the governor explained his reasons for not administering the oath of chief minister to Hamza Shehbaz, saying the political impasse in the province had erupted due to the controversial resignation of Mr Buzdar followed by the election for the CM, which he claimed was a classic case of violation of the Constitution and rules framed thereunder and the order of a Lahore High Court division bench.

‘Unbecoming of governor’

Reacting to involving the army in political affairs, federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar says it is unbecoming of a governor to write to the army chief, as the constitutional offices require a basic sense of restraint.

He said the governor was neither an appellate authority nor in a position to adjudicate upon the election of the chief minister, and must refrain from indulging in these things. “He is inviting high treason cases for himself,” Mr Tarar maintained.

Separately, PTI Punjab president Shafqat Mahmood held back commenting on the issue by just saying the governor had only informed the president, prime minister and COAS about the legal and constitutional issues in Punjab.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has regretted Governor Cheema’s communication with Gen Bajwa. “The HRCP regrets the letter,” says Chairperson Hina Jillani.

Talking to Dawn, she said the commission had always opposed invitations to all non-constitutional forces for interference in the political process. She said there seems to be an agenda that was being acted upon for the last few years. Initially, Ms Jillani said, they were doing it all discreetly, but now trying it openly. “Otherwise, how can a man, holding a high constitutional office, invite extra-constitutional interference? Did he get a sign from within the institution?” she questioned, adding the letter would also put the military in a difficult situation explaining the governor’s conduct.

Reference against LHC judge

On the other hand, terming ‘illegal’ the order of Lahore High Court’s Justice Jawad Hassan asking National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to administer oath to the then CM-elect Hamza Shehbaz, Governor Cheema said he would file a reference against the judge with the SJC.

Addressing a press conference at Punjab House in Islamabad, the Punjab governor expected the SJC to check the fact that there was no constitutional provision allowing anyone besides the president or the governor to administer the oath to a chief minister. He also called the chief secretary’s notification about the new CM illegal, and claimed the election for the office was conducted against the Constitution. He maintained the judiciary could not interfere in the functions of the provincial assembly.

He told the presser he had requested meetings with the president and army chief to discuss the situation. He also said he would send his legal team to Prime Minister Sharif to make him understand the legal obligations for the CM’s election.

The governor remarked that for the first time in the country’s parliamentary history, police had conducted the election in the House. However, he said, political parties were silent over this violation. Apart from the PTI, he claimed, no one else thought the election was unconstitutional.

Aamir Yasin in Islamabad also contributed to this report.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2022

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