SC seeks interior, defence ministries' input on security situation for elections

SC seeks interior, defence ministries' input on security situation for elections

Islamabad (Web Desk): The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday asked the ministries of interior and defence to provide their input on the time frame regarding the improvement in country's security situation to hold elections.

Earlier today, the SC resumed hearing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's (PTI) petition against the decision of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) decision regarding the delay in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) elections.

A five-member larger bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Aminuddin Khan and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail is hearing the case.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawyer Farooq H Naek, Advocate Irfan Qadir, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar, ECP lawyer Sajeel Swati, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and others attended the hearing today.

As the hearing commenced today, PPP lawyer Farooq H. Naek appeared before the bench and requested that the party be named respondent in the case.

“You want to present your stance … is your application on behalf of the PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement)?” the CJP asked. Naek replied that PPP was not a part of the PDM.

Justice Bandial then said that the court will first hear arguments from ECP’s lawyer.

On the other hand, Justice Mandokhail, while referring to the SC’s March 1 judgement regarding elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab, said that four judges had “dismissed” the proceedings.

Justice Mandokhail clarified his remarks from the previous hearing, saying that it had caused “great confusion”.

"I stand by my detailed order," the justice said, explaining that one part of the judgment was about the administrative powers.

He said that the CJP would be asked to form a judges' committee to look into the rules of administrative powers.

"In the second part of the verdict, four of us judges rejected the suo motu notice and pleas," he said, adding that the judgment by the four judges was the order of the court.

He however, stated that this order of the court was not issued by CJP Bandial.

"How did the president give a date when there wasn't a verdict, how did the election commission issue the schedule," he asked.

He further stated that they can check the file of court's records, it doesnt have the order of the court.

"An order of the court is signed by all the judges," Justice Mandokhail declared.

After this, the lawyers of the ruling alliance proceeded to the rostrum.

Senior lawyer Farooq H Naek requested the court to form a full court for the clarification of the March 1 judgment.

"It is necessary to [fulfill] the requirements of justice that it is decided that whether it was a 3-2 or 4-3 split verdict," Naek maintained. He said that the entire country's luck depends on this matter as the nation is stuck in a dilemma.

The matter of jurisdiction should be decided first, Naek added.

At this, CJP Bandial directed the lawyer to submit his request in written and warned against spoiling the court's environment.

Presenting his arguments, the ECP lawyer said that that the commission made all-out efforts to conduct free and fair elections. “The ECP proposed the date for elections under Article 57.

“As soon as we received the verdict on March 3, the ECP began preparations for the elections. But we also have to look at the security of the people.”

Here, Justice Akhtar told the lawyer that ECP’s March 22 order — regarding the delay in polls in Punjab — had been challenged in court and asked him when exactly was the decision taken.

“The order was issued in the evening,” Swati replied, adding that nomination papers had already been issued when the decision was taken.

He further highlighted that the armed forces had refused to provide personnel for the election duty. “Article 17 of the Constitution talks about peaceful elections. According to the Constitution, the elections should be conducted in a transparent, peaceful and conducive environment,” he told the bench.

Swati revealed security agencies provided the ECP with “confidential reports” and offered to present them in court as well. “The reports mentioned that there was a presence of terrorist elements, such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Sindhudesh, in Bhakkar and Mianwali.”

He went on to say that the ECP had requested more than 400,000 security personnel for polls duty, but was facing a shortage of 298,000 personnel.

Here, Justice Akhtar pointed out that the lawyer was detailing the letter dated Feb 8. “But the court issued the directives on March 1. Did you think of delaying elections till Oct in Feb only?

“And then you say you can’t even think of deviating from the court’s order,” the judge highlighted. “If you wanted to hold the elections in October, why did you suggest a date in April to the president?”

The CJP here instructed the ECP lawyer to note Justice Akhtar’s questions down. “Continue with your arguments and then give answers to these questions,” he said.

Continuing his arguments, the ECP lawyer said that in a letter on Feb 8, the Interior Ministry had raised concerns over the security situation in the country.

He said that the ministry had also warned of attacks on political personalities, including Imran Khan. “And these threats are not just for the election day but also during the electoral campaign.”

Swati reiterated that polls could not be held in the absence of security personnel.

“The sector commander of the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) said that banned organisations have formed shadow governments in KP,” he revealed. Detailing on the province’s security situation, he said 443 security threats were received in KP in 2023, while 80 incidents of terrorism were reported last year.

“According to reports, terrorists from Afghanistan are entering KP and it will take more than six to seven months for the threats to end,” the lawyer said.

At that, the CJP remarked that the points raised by ECP were very important and asked if they were conveyed to the president. He also observed that the reports of terrorism in KP were concerning.

“All the stakeholders were informed about the situation,” Swati said and highlighted that Punjab had also mentioned operations in various areas.

The CJP asked Swati whether he was aware that security operations in the riverine areas (of Punjab) take place every two to three days. “When will the riverine operation in Punjab be completed?” the chief justice asked him.

According to Punjab, Swati said, the operation will take up to six months to complete. “There is no room to doubt the reports of intelligence agencies,” the election commission lawyer said.

Justice Akhtar then interjected, stressing that two assemblies have been dissolved.

“But the facts mentioned in the intelligence reports cannot be overlooked,” Swati responded.

“Is there any way that the election commission could verify these reports?” Justice Mandokhail asked as the CJP conceded that terrorism was an issue.

“Facts are being reported in the media,” said Swati.

During the hearing, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan asked the ECP lawyer "If the administrative bodies were not cooperating, then they would have told the court. On this occasion, Justice Jamal Mandukhel remarked that "If the ECP is not satisfied with the situation for ten years. So can the court ask for an election,?'

ECP's lawyer Sujeel Swati, argued that the Election Commission will take a realistic decision.

On this, the CJP said, "If the ECP cannot find a way, then we will find it. In 1988, the elections were also delayed on the orders of the court. In 2008, the situation was such that no one objected to the postponement of the elections, God bless you." The incident of 2008 should not happen again.

The CJP added that the ECP has not yet done anything for overseas Pakistanis right to vote, asking the government whether the period of six months can be reduced or not. The constitution has been interpreted keeping in mind the fundamental rights.

CJP Bandial said that how Article 218-3 can be superior to Article 224.

Swati said that "Article 218-3 talks about transparent and fair elections."

"What is the meaning of a conducive environment if no one points a finger at anyone, small and big fights happen in every country, the real issue is that weapons should not be used," the CJP said, adding that if you don't want even a minor dispute, make such a system that people cast their votes from home. Overseas Pakistanis are demanding the right to vote, there is also a Supreme Court order.

ECP's lawyer Sajil Swati has completed his arguments. Advocate General Punjab Shan Gill argued in the court on video link.

Subsequently the court adjourned the hearing till 11 am tomorrow.