• Ghulam Mahmood Dogar currently embroiled in dispute with Centre over failure to follow transfer orders
• Frequent changes, irregularities in composition may expose probe team to legal snags

LAHORE: Confusion appears to be the order of the day for the Punjab government after it reconstituted for a fourth time the joint investigation team (JIT) formed to probe into the assassination bid on former prime minister Imran Khan in Wazirabad.

On Tuesday, the provincial government appointed Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Ghulam Mahmood Dogar as the team’s head. Interestingly, the officer is currently in the midst of a tussle between Punjab and the Centre, as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had suspended him on Nov 5 for allegedly not complying with transfer orders issued by the Establishment Division, Islamabad, while Mr Dogar refuses to relinquish the charge of his office.

Since a first information report (FIR) of the Wazirabad incident was registered, members of the investigation team have been repeatedly replaced, purportedly owing to a lack of consensus between the PML-Q and PTI — the ruling allies in Punjab.

Police experts call these frequent changes a violation of Article 18(6) of the Police Order 2002, saying the rules clearly define the procedure for changing an investigation team and the government’s actions could be challenged in court.

Sources said Punjab Chief Minister Parvez Elahi had appointed the Lahore CCPO as head of the JIT on the recommendations of the PTI leadership, which wanted to ‘fix’ all the three top government and military officers that Imran Khan had nominated in his complaint following the attempt on his life.

The PTI chief had nominated PM Shehbaz, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and senior army officer Maj-Gen Faisal Naseer. However, Wazirabad police registered an FIR on the complaint of one of its officials on Nov 7, nominating the sole armed suspect already arrested from the crime scene.

Since losing the battle to have an FIR of its choice lodged, a senior official said police circles believed the PTI leadership had been making efforts to ‘take matters in its hands’ through its influence on the Punjab government and getting the case investigated by ‘favourable’ police officers. But it had yet to reach a consensus with its ally, the PML-Q, which was evident from the fact that the provincial government had changed the heads and members of the JIT four times so far.

On Nov 8, a day after registration of the FIR on Supreme Court orders, the Punjab police had constituted the JIT, recommending Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Riaz Nazir Gara as its head, and sending a summary to the provincial government to issue a notification. Its members were DIG (Investigation) Nasir Satti and Assistant Inspector General (Monitoring) Ehsanul Haq.

However, the very next day, the government rejected the police’s nominees and notified a new JIT with DIG Tariq Rustam Chohan as its convener. The new members were Dera Ghazi Khan Regional Police Officer (RPO) Syed Khurram Ali Shah and Vehari District Police Officer (DPO) Zafar Buzdar, a relative of former Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar.

Later, it came as a surprise when CM Elahi again reconstituted the JIT on Nov 10, appointing RPO Shah as its new head, triggering a controversy as to who was influencing the process.

Amid the confusion, which was yet to be addressed, a fourth notification surfaced on Tuesday according to which Lahore CCPO Dogar would now be heading the JIT, and DIG Chohan removed as a member altogether.

A senior police officer pointed out procedural flaws in these rapid changes to the JIT formed to probe into a high-profile case.

“Investigation shall not be changed except after due deliberations and recommendations by a board headed by an officer not below the rank of senior superintendent of police and two superintendents of police, one being in charge of the investigation of the concerned district,” the Police Order 2002 states.

It further says: “Provided that the final order for the change of investigation shall be passed by head of investigation in the general police area who shall record reasons for change of such investigation. Provided further that the second change of investigation may only be allowed with the approval of the Provincial Police Officer, or the Capital City Police Officer, as the case may be”, reads Article 18(6) of the law.

The senior official said the provincial police chief had a key role in the changing of an investigation team and his absence from the process would create a serious issue in a court of law. He further said the appointment of the Lahore CCPO as head of the JIT had stunned many as his suspension issue was pending with the federal government for a final decision.

He further said the Federal Service Tribunal had suspended the notification of suspension of CCPO Dogar, directing the Establishment Division to decide it as per law. In case the federal government announced a major punishment of dismissal from service, as is being expected in the days to come, the legal status of the JIT would again become controversial.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2022

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