Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on Wednesday said the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was a constitutional body and will be “offered protection”, but warned that the Supreme Court will intervene if there was any ill intention in holding “transparent elections”.
He made the observation as a three-judge SC bench resumed hearing the petition against the transfer of Ghulam Mahmood Dogar as the Lahore capital city police officer (CCPO).
Earlier this month, the ECP had approached the SC to become a party in the case, stating that without reshuffling of “partisan officers”, free and fair elections would not be possible.
The ECP application argued that the apex court in the 2012 Workers Party case had mandated ECP to take pre-emptive measures to guard against any corrupt practices or even a possibility so that the elections could be conducted in accordance with the law.
During today’s proceedings, the apex court disposed of the petition after the petitioner withdrew the plea.
The commission’s lawyer told the court that the election schedule for Punjab, where the provincial assembly has been dissolved, had been issued. Holding free and fair elections is the ECP’s responsibility, he said, adding that making transfers in bureaucracy also fell within its purview.
The CJP remarked that it had been proven that the interim Punjab government was making transfers with the electoral watchdog’s “permission”. He said that the ECP could also give transfer orders to the interim government.
All political parties should get a level playing field in elections but the ECP should not give the interim government a free hand in making transfers, Justice Bandial said.
The CJP further said that the top court’s remarks were often misinterpreted. “We said in one case that there was an honest prime minister in 1988. Our remarks were misinterpreted by Parliament. We never said that there has only been one honest prime minister” in the country’s history, he said.
“The ECP is a constitutional body that we will provide protection to. The commission has powers under the Constitution. Its purpose is to conduct transparent polls. We will intervene if there is any ill intention in holding transparent polls,” the CJP remarked at one point during the hearing.
Commenting on the slew of audio leaks in recent weeks, Justice Bandial said that the SC was being “defamed through audio tapes”. “Those audio tapes have no significance,” he remarked.
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 deferentially 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.
On February 17, the SC suspended repatriation orders to the federal government of Dogar but regretted the ECP’s failure to furnish any record showing how permission to transfer the officer was granted on a verbal request.
Following the verdict, the federal government withdrew two notifications of transfer and suspension of Dogar, putting his services at the disposal of the Punjab caretaker government to take further decision for his appointment.
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