The Supreme Court on Friday initiated proceedings in a case pertaining to the sudden transfer of the District Police Officer (DPO) Pakpattan under controversial circumstances.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar had on Thursday taken suo motu notice of the transfer of former Pakpattan DPO Rizwan Gondal, allegedly over an altercation with citizen Khawar Fareed Maneka, ex-husband of First Lady Bushra Imran.
The chief justice had ordered Punjab Inspector General (IG) Kaleem Imam, Additional Inspector General (AIG) Abu Bakar Khuda Buksh, Sahiwal’s regional police officer (RPO) and the Pakpattan DPO to appear before the Supreme Court at 9:30am today along with the inquiry report.
"What's the story?" Chief Justice Saqib Nisar asked as he began hearing the case on Friday morning. "Why has the entire nation been obsessed with it for the last five days?"
According to the media's reporting of the reasons behind Gondal's transfer, relying on several unsubstantiated reports, the officer was allegedly transferred for refusing to apologise in person to Khawar Maneka over an altercation between Maneka and police officials.
The altercation was said to be over an incident involving Khawar Maneka and the Pakpattan police. Late on August 23 or early August 24, Khawar Maneka was flagged to stop at a security picket in Pakpattan by police, but he allegedly refused and raced ahead. The police had subsequently chased him down and forced him to stop, after which harsh words were exchanged between the two parties.
"I want to make it clear that we want the police to be free and empowered. It does not sit well that the chief minister [of Punjab] or someone sitting with him may have been responsible for the officer's transfer," the chief justice said on the outset of the case's hearing.
The chief justice's reference to the 'person sitting with the chief minister' is to Ahsan Jameel Gujjar, said to be an influential person who is close to the Maneka family. Gujjar and Punjab CM Usman Buzdar had reportedly summoned Gondal to the CM's office for an 'explanation' of the events in Pakpattan shortly before the officer was transferred from his posting.
"Where's Khawar Maneka?" the chief justice asked. "Where's Ahsan Jameel Gujjar? Why was the DPO called to [Khawar Maneka's] dera to apologise?"
"Why was the DPO transferred at 1am in the night? Could the transfer not have waited till the morning? What was the urgency that the transfer orders had to be issued at night only?" the CJP asked.
"We will not tolerate any political interference [in the police's operations]," Justice Ejazul Ahsan chipped in.
"We'll see how anyone can be transferred under pressure," the CJP added.
Responding to the judges' queries, the IG Punjab took the stand to state his version of events.
"There was no pressure on me to make the transfer," IG Imam said. "This was a departmental decision."
"We found out through the Special Branch and various other sources that Rizwan Gondal had not been entirely forthcoming to us," the IGP said, elaborating on his decision to move Gondal out of Pakpattan. "In any case, a transfer is not a punishment."
To the question of why Gondal went to CM House, the IG said: "The chief minister summoned DPO Rizwan Gondal."
"Did you stop the chief minister from meeting the DPO?" the chief justice asked.
The CJP then asked the IG what was wrong with the police questioning a woman pedestrian — a reference to reports that there had been a separate incident in Pakpattan early in August also involving a member of the Maneka family — a woman — who had similarly been 'stopped' by police for questioning.
The IG told the court that the woman hadn't simply been stopped for questioning: "Someone also grabbed her by the arm," he said.
Gondal himself took the stand next.
"The chief minister's PSO Haider called me and the RPO for a meeting," Rizwan Gondal told the court.
"I had told the RPO about the August 23, 24 incident," Gondal said. "I had also informed the IG Punjab through WhatsApp."
"On the day of the incident, I received a phone call at 4pm that I should present myself at CM House before 10pm that night," Gondal deposed. "I reached there at 10pm, where I was introduced to Ahsan Jameel as the chief minister's 'brother'."
"Jameel asked me to tell him if there was some kind of conspiracy against the Maneka family," Gondal said.
"I also received messages from abroad," Gondal said, presumably referring to pressure on him to apologise to the Manekas.
"Who sent those messages?" the chief justice asked.
"Among the people who sent the messages was an ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) colonel named Tariq. He messaged saying I should go to the dera," Gondal said. "Another message was sent by my senior, Azeem Arshad."
Gondal said he "kept calling Ibrahim Maneka to tell him that if he could not come to my office, he could come to my house", referring to reports that he had been asked to apologise to Bushra Imran's son from her first marriage on the harassment issue.
The AIG was called to the stand next.
"The first incident, of harassment of a woman, took place on August 5," the AIG deposed to the court. "No action was taken on this from August 6 to August 23, even though the DPO should have investigated the incident. We are public servants, there should be no ego involved in what we do."
"On August 24, 18 days after the incident, we were told that someone called from abroad and that someone called from the ISI," the AIG said.
"So your position is that the August 5 matter should have been investigated by the DPO and wasn't?" Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked.
"The writ of the state should always be upheld," Justice Bandial remarked. "The police is there to serve, but our police asks complainants to come with a car if they want their complaint to be registered. We need to change this system."
However, Gondal dismissed the allegation.
"I can say on oath that I was not informed by any police official about any incident of harassment," Gondal told the court.
"What was the chief minister's role in all of this?" the chief justice asked. "Where did his friend drop in from? Is Ahsan Jameel Gujjar some kind of influential individual?"
"How soon can Khawar Maneka and Ahsan Gujjar be presented before the court?" he subsequently asked.
Khawar Maneka, however, excused himself from leaving Lahore before 3pm. Meanwhile, Ahsan Jameel Gujjar could not be reached by the additional advocate general of Punjab.
When the court was informed by the additional attorney general after a break that Maneka, Gujjar and Col Tariq could not be presented before the court today due to various reasons, the court adjourned the case to Monday.
It additionally summoned the CM's PSO, the DIG Headquarters Shehzada Sultan and the CM's CSO, tasking the IG Punjab with the responsibility of ensuring everyone was present for the hearing.
Ominously, the chief justice also told the Punjab advocate general to read court judgements involving Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution.
"We'll see if the authority accorded to public offices was abused in this case," he said.