The Supreme Court on Thursday sought a detailed report from Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja regarding the obstacles in the way of the Punjab elections, as it heard a petition against the transfer of Ghulam Mahmood Dogar as the Lahore capital city police officer (CCPO).

A two-member bench consisting of Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi presided over the hearing today while the Punjab advocate general represented the Punjab government.

During the hearing, Raja told the court that he was being “prevented” from exercising his powers and constitutional requirements, as he lamented he was refused security, returning officers and funding for the elections from the army, the judiciary and the executive respectively.

Today’s hearing

The hearing began with Justice Ahsan asking about why Dogar was transferred despite apex court orders to the contrary.

Dogar as the Lahore CCPO was at the centre of a tussle between the federal government and the then Punjab government under Chaudhry Parvez Elahi. Dogar booked PML-N leaders in cases and headed the Wazirabad JIT which was probing the attempted assassination of Imran Khan. The Centre tried recalling him, which was blocked by the Punjab government. It ultimately suspended Dogar, but he was reinstated by the top court.

“There were Supreme Court orders, so why was the CCPO still transferred,” Justice Ahsan asked the Punjab advocate general today. “What was the rush to transfer Ghulam Mahmood Dogar?”

“With the election commission’s permission, Dogar was transferred for the second time,” the Punjab government’s lawyer responded.

Justice Ahsan then asked: “What is the role of the election commission in the change of officers?” Justice Naqvi followed up by observing that the election commission’s role came after the announcement of the elections.

“Due to the caretaker setup in Punjab, permission was taken from the election commissioner,” the additional advocate general (AAG) said.

“According to the Constitution, elections are to be held within 90 days after the caretaker setup,” he added.

“Then tell me where the election is,” Justice Ahsan asked.

“Half of Punjab was transferred,” Justice Naqvi remarked. “Is there any district in Punjab where a transfer has not occurred?”

Justice Ahsan then asked: “Was the election commission not aware of the orders of the Supreme Court?” “The election commission is doing everything except its own job,” he remarked.

The court then summoned CEC Raja “immediately”, pausing the hearing for an hour.

About an hour later, the CEC appeared in court and the hearing resumed.

Justice Ahsan observed, “The Constitution obliges to hold elections within 90 days. It is the election commission’s responsibility to hold elections. Not holding the elections within the stipulated time will be going against the Constitution.

“There is no ambiguity within the Constitution about holding elections within 90 days. Holding transparent elections is only the election commission’s responsibility.”

He went on to assert that the “caretaker government cannot make appointments and transfers”, adding that if it intended to make a transfer, it should “submit a request with concrete reasons”.

Justice Ahsan further said that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was “obliged to issue an appropriate order after reviewing the reasons”.

To this, the CEC responded, “If the court orders, we will stop the transfer (of the CCPO). If we give the election date, it will be going against the Constitution.

“If we act upon one Article of the Constitution, it leads to the violation of another Article,” he said.

Meanwhile, the attorney general cited a verdict being awaited from the Lahore High Court as the reason for the delay.

“I am being prevented from exercising my powers and constitutional requirements,” the ECP official lamented.

“When I asked the army for security [for the elections], I was refused. When I asked the judiciary for permission, they refused it. I asked for money for the elections, I was refused that as well.”

Upon hearing this, the Supreme Court directed CEC Raja to submit a detailed report about the obstacles the electoral body was facing in holding the elections and adjourned the case’s hearing till Friday (tomorrow).

Transfer saga

Dogar, a BS-21 officer, was initially recalled by the federal government in September 2022. The seemingly surprising move came after the Lahore police had booked two PML-N ministers, as well as two senior officials of state-run PTV, on terrorism charges for allegedly “fanning religious hatred” against former premier Imran Khan and “endangering his life”.

However, then-Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi had stopped Dogar from relinquishing the charge, saying that the federal government can neither remove him nor transfer him.

Dogar was also famously filmed meeting then chief minister Parvez Elahi differentially after defying the Centre’s orders to report to the federal government.

Following a back-and-forth, the federal government suspended him in early November for apparently not ensuring the security of the Governor House during a violent protest by PTI workers against the assassination attempt on Imran during his party’s long march.

He was then reinstated as the Lahore CCPO as per a Supreme Court directive issued on Dec 2, 2022.

Dogar had been appointed as the head of the joint investigation team (JIT) probing the Wazirabad attack on Imran. In early January, he had proposed departmental action against four senior members of the panel after they said there was no proof that there were multiple shooters, despite the PTI’s assertions.

He had also proposed action against two other senior pol­ice officers, including Gujrat District Police Officer Syed Ghazanfar Ali Shah and a Counter Terrorism Department senior superintendent of police — who was not part of the probe team — for allegedly recording a video statement of the prime suspect arrested from the attack spot and leaking it to the media.

Dogar’s allegations had followed a letter the four members had written to him, expressing reservations over the way he had been trying to influence the investigation process.

Then on Jan 23, the newly installed caretaker Punjab government replaced Dogar with Bilal Siddique Kamyana as the new CCPO.

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