FREQUENT changes in the formation of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the gun attack on former prime minister Imran Khan in Wazirabad has resulted in ‘needless controversies and legal complications’, diminishing the prospects of a fair probe into the assassination bid, law enforcement experts told Dawn.

Though the dust is yet to settle in the wake of the confrontation between rival political parties over the Wazirabad case, the federal government made a surprise entry with a ‘parallel team’ on Jan 22, something the provincial authorities alleged was a bid to influence the investigation process.

A week after the Parvez Elahi government reconstituted the investigation team — headed by Ghulam Mehmood Dogar — probing the assassination bid on Imran Khan, the federal government constituted its own JIT headed by former Punjab IG Rao Sardar Ali Khan.

Interestingly, Rao Sardar is disliked by the PTI because it was under his watch that the PTI’s long march in May last year was crushed, while Mahmood Dogar is not palatable to PML-N for his purported proximity to the PTI-PML-Q alliance.

Seasoned law enforcers say political rivalries have mired investigation into attack on Imran Khan’s caravan in ‘needless legal complications’

‘Fair probe’

Commenting on the legal complications in the wake of the new JIT formed by the federal government, a police expert expressed disappointment, saying that the chances of fair investigations into the high-profile gun attack case have further decreased after the government instituted a “parallel investigation body” to probe the same case.

“The notification issued on Jan 22 has not cleared the legal status of the JIT formed by the Punjab government to investigate the case,” the police officer said, declaring the new JIT a case of ‘overriding’ by the federal government.

To a question, he said that there were some instances in the past when the federal government intervened and formed a JIT to investigate the high-profile terrorism cases lodged by provinces.

Referring to the murder case of slain PPP leader Benazir Bhutto lodged with the Rawalpindi police under anti-terrorism charges, the expert said the government had assigned the probe to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Articles 142 and 143 of the Constitution vested the federal government with powers in this respect, the officer said.

“If any provision of an Act of a Provincial Assembly is repugnant to any provision of an Act of Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament) which Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament) is competent to enact, then the Act of Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament), whether passed before or after the Act of the Provincial Assembly, shall prevail and the Act of the Provincial Assembly shall, to the extent of the repugnancy, be void,” reads Article 143.

‘Anomaly’

However, the JIT in the Wazirabad case is still an anomaly, since instead of a federal agency, the Centre has delegated the task to the provincial police. “The legal position of the previous JIT [formed on Jan 14] formed by the Punjab government is yet to be officially declared null and void,” the police expert added.

According to an official source, the attack on the former premier and the subsequent investigation team formed to investigate the case have remained at the centre of the controversy since the start. Soon after the suspect was arrested, his ‘confession’ was leaked to the media, and later on, questions were raised on the veracity of the investigation carried out by the high-profile JIT. He said the move to form a new JIT by the federal government has turned this probe into more of a “political issue than a legal one”.

The JIT formed on Jan 22 by the PDM government is fifth in the case. The first JIT was formed in November 2022 by the Punjab government with DIG Rustam Chohan its convener.

However, the PML-N ruling the Centre rejected the joint investigation body, raising questions pertaining to the violation of rules. It had declared that the case lodged under anti-terrorism charges required the representation of officers from spy agencies.

On Nov 10, the JIT got a makeover and Dera Ghazi Khan RPO Khurram Ali Shah was made its chief, and DIG Chohan was removed.

On Nov 15, the JIT was reconstituted, again. The appointment of then-Lahore CCPO Ghulam Mahmood Dogar –who was asked by the federal government to report to the Establishment Division and later faced suspension upon refusal – as the head of the re-constituted JIT added fuel to the controversy.

The police official told Dawn that controversies had continued to haunt the investigating body due to a political rift between political parties at the helm of affairs in the Centre and Punjab.

The confrontation hit a crescendo in January when the four members of the JIT gave divergent points of view and wrote a letter against the JIT convener, Ghulam Mahmood Dogar. In retaliation, Mr Dogar, in a written complaint, sought action against the four members under disciplinary proceedings, resulting in the removal of these members from the probe body for allegedly leaking official information to the media.

Though the former CCPO claimed the involvement of multiple shooters in the attack on Imran Khan, his team members contested the narrative. Mr Dogar was backed by PTI for apparently endorsing that the attack on Mr Khan was pre-planned while the PML-N came out in the support of sacked JIT members who did not agree with Mr Dogar’s theory.

Subsequently, on the written complaint of the JIT convener, Punjab Prosecutor General Chaudhry Khaliquz Zaman carried out a detailed inquiry and held the JIT members, including RPO Syed Khurram Ali Shah, guilty of serious charges. Following the inquiry report, they were removed and the JIT was constituted, again. But the after the formation of its own JIT by the federal government, the status of the JIT formed by the Punjab government remains in limbo.

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2023

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