— Chief justice notes leak of secretly recorded conversations aimed at maligning top court
— Disposes of challenge to transfer of Mahmood Dogar as CCPO Lahore after petitioner withdraws plea
— Cautions ECP against giving interim govt free hand in making transfers to ensure level playing field
ISLAMABAD: The chief justice of Pakistan said the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would be “protected” as a constitutional body, but warned that the Supreme Court would intervene if there were any malicious intention in conducting “transparent elections” in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The observation was made during hearing of a petition against the transfer of Ghulam Mahmood Dogar as chief of Lahore police by a three-judge bench of the apex court.
A three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Umar Atta Bandial, and included Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi, heard the petition.
Election Commission (ECP) counsel Abid Zuberi told the court that the election schedule has been released after the establishment of caretaker government as it is the ECP’s responsibility to conduct fair and transparent elections under Article 218.
The ECP has the power to reshuffle bureaucracy to give a level playing field to contestants. The government can transfer an officer with the approval of the ECP, he added.
Justice Yahya Afridi inquired as to when the ECP can use the authority of transfer and posting. The ECP counsel submitted that under Article 218, it can transfer an officer.
Chief Justice Bandial remarked that it has been proven that the caretaker government can transfer officers in consultation with the ECP. Can ECP itself recommend to the caretaker government to transfer officers?
Justice Afridi then questioned when the ECP gave approval of the transfer of CCPO Dogar.
The counsel submitted that the ECP gave verbal approval to the caretaker government for the transfer of CCPO on January 23. The caretaker government took a policy decision to reshuffle the bureaucracy for transparent election and the ECP approved the decision.
Earlier this month, the ECP had requested to become a party to the case, arguing that without the transfer of “partisan officers,” free and fair elections would not be possible. The tribunal argued the court had mandated it in Workers Party of Pakistan v. Federation of Pakistan to take pre-emptive measures against corrupt practices or any possibility of them, so that elections could be conducted in accordance with the law.
During the hearing Wednesday, the petitioner withdrew the plea, and the court disposed of the case.
Umar Ata Bandial, the chief justice, observed the interim government of Mohsin Naqvi in Punjab is making transfers with the permission of the commission. He further added that the ECP has the authority to give transfer orders to the administration, but it should not give them a free hand in making transfers as it is important for all political parties to have a level playing field during elections.
Bandial clarified that the Supreme Court’s remarks are often misinterpreted, citing an example where Parliament misinterpreted their statement about an “honest prime minister” in 1988, referring to Muhammad Khan Junejo.
Bandial also expressed concern the Supreme Court was being “maligned” through leaked audio tapes against judges.
“The Supreme Court is a constitutional institution which is being maligned through [secretly recorded] audio tapes,” said the judge. He emphasised that the court will work patiently to protect the institution from such defamation.
He also dismissed the leaked tapes defaming constitutional institutions as insignificant and added that it was unfortunate that false allegations had been made against the judges.
The CJP questioned the authenticity of the audio and video tapes and expressed the Supreme Court’s leniency in handling such matters.
Dogar’s Transfer as CCPO Lahore
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, the then-Punjab CM Ch Pervaiz Elahi had stopped Dogar from relinquishing the charge, saying the federal government can neither remove 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.