Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and citizen Ahsan Jameel Gujjar, both key respondents in the Supreme Court's (SC) suo motu case pertaining to the transfer of former Pakpattan district police officer (DPO) Rizwan Gondal, on Saturday objected to a report compiled by the chief of the National Counter-terrorism Authority (Nacta) on the incident.
Nacta Chief Maher Khaliq Dad Lak had been ordered by the chief justice to conduct an inquiry to determine the "complete truth" about who was responsible for Gondal's sudden transfer.
Among other findings, Lak's report mentioned that Gujjar, in a meeting with the DPO and other police officers at the Punjab chief minister's office, had said "All will suffer" if such an incident occurred again.
Lak concluded that while the words were "certainly derogatory, insulting and constitute misconduct", but stopped short of deeming them an attempt at coercion, saying that "whether they constitute criminal intimidation is purely a legal debate".
Gujjar, in his response submitted to the SC today, declared that the report was "vague" and contrary to facts.
He described himself as an ordinary citizen who did not hold any government or public office who "thus, is not likely to cause any state of susceptibility or intimidation on part of the state functionaries, who even otherwise are not so gullible in terms of their official/administrative functions".
The statement seemed to be a response to a Supreme Court warning that Gujjar may be tried for thwarting the functioning of the state.
"At best, the respondent may only be seen to have acted in a state of anxiety in a naive manner [...] for which he had already expressed his remorse and repentance," the reply said.
Gujjar had previously offered an unconditional apology to the SC for his "unwarranted participation" in official matters.
The court had repeatedly grilled Gujjar in the past as to what capacity he attempted to mediate a dispute between state functionaries and a private citizen, noting that he could not plausibly present himself as a 'guardian' of the Maneka children as he did not have any legal claim to do so.
CM Punjab says his version not accounted for
Hours later, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, in a formal written statement, dismissed Lak's report as "a figment of the imagination of a fertile mind".
The Nacta chief had concluded in his report that the orders for Gondal's transfer in the middle of the night "flowed" from the chief minister's office.
The Punjab CM rejected those findings, claiming that the report is "absolutely conjectural, based on a figment of imagination of a fertile mind, rooted in probabilities and surmises, and therefore not worthy of any reliance whatsoever".
Lak's assessment had been based on a series of phone calls made on the evening of Gondal's transfer between the Punjab police chief, the DIG HQ, the CM's office, the DPO of Pakpattan and the RPO of Sahiwal.
The DIG HQ, according to Lak's report, had confirmed that he had received a "telephonic order" at 10pm on Aug 26 to transfer Gondal, which he had not been able to comply with right away. The DIG HQ had then received another call from the then IG Punjab, Syed Kaleem Imam, around 12am to convey the transfer orders to the DPO.
"This urgency from the IGP also goes in line with the statement of ex-DPO Pakpattan, whereby orders were conveyed by the PSO to CM to the IGP to remove him [Gondal] by 9am [the following day]," Lak had concluded.
The Punjab CM's rebuttal today dismissed "the unwarranted hype" attributed to those calls and described the conclusion drawn as a "damp squib when considered in its proper context and contours".
The inquiry officer's conclusion drawn from the calls made from the CM office to the IGP were "superfluous and exaggerated", the response states.
"The reason for [the CM's office] contacting the IGP was to sensitize" the police chief regarding the CM's planned trips to Khanewal and Pakpattan, the rebuttal adds, not, as Lak suggested, to convey the CM's desire to have Gondal removed.
The statement regretted that "this aspect [that the CM's office could have had a separate matter to discuss with the Punjab police chief] has been given a short shrift and has been gratuitously discarded without a demur."
The response recalls that the chief minister, during his appearance before the SC, had stated clearly that he had only interfered in the matter at the initial stage so as to ensure and amicable settlement.
It asks that the Supreme Court to chalk up the incident to the new CM's inexperience at approaching the right channels for dispute resolution and promises that such an incident will never occur again and a proper complaint resolution mechanism would be worked out which would route such matters through the provincial police chief.
The Pakpattan incident
In August, 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.
When Gondal's transfer orders started making rounds a few days later, it was widely speculated in news and social media that that the police officer was transferred because of the incident.
It was believed that the officer was transferred for refusing to apologise in person to Khawar Maneka over the altercation between him and the police.
However, it later transpired that there had been two incidents involving a run-in between the Maneka family and local and highway police, which had led to acrimony between Khawar Maneka and Pakpattan police.
That acrimony finally came to a head when the Punjab police chief, the chief minister and the Maneka family got pulled into a messy dispute over how the matter should have been resolved, which ended with the abrupt transfer of Gondal from his police duties.
The circumstances of Gondal's transfer are the object of discussion in the ongoing case.