How The Commissioner Rawalpindi Opened A New Pandora's Box

According to Mr Chattha, so much 'pressure' was applied on him that he even considered committing suicide, but he did not explain where the pressure was coming from

How The Commissioner Rawalpindi Opened A New Pandora's Box

Every election in the history of Pakistan has been marred by allegations of rigging and fraud, with the exception of the 1970 elections that saw East Pakistan become the independent country of Bangladesh. Other than those elections, none of the others have really been fair, free or transparent – despite all the assurances by the caretaker government and the election commission. It is an open secret that rigging has occurred at many levels with the participation of state institutions, election officials and the political parties and contestants. The General Elections 2024 are no different – except that now a senior bureaucrat has admitted to his role in the election rigging and opened a new Pandora’s Box in the already super-charged and polarised national arena. 

Commissioner Rawalpindi Division Liaqat Ali Chattha announced in a press briefing to local reporters that he managed to change the results of the winning candidates backed by the PTI, and according to him, all the results of the 13 National Assembly seats and all the provincial assembly seats were tampered with: even those candidates who were leading by 70, 000 votes were made to lose. According to Mr Chattha, so much “pressure” was applied on him that he even considered committing suicide, but he did not explain where the pressure was coming from. He did not blame the Election Commission itself or the country’s security establishment for pressurising him to rig the polls, but he did accuse the Chief Election Commissioner and the Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa for their active role in the election fraud. He went on to add: “I take responsibility for the wrong in Rawalpindi. I should be punished for my crimes and other people involved in this crime should be punished.” In fact, he opined that along with him, the guilty persons should be hanged in the Kutchery Chowk in Rawalpindi.

The CJP and the Election Commission have both denied the allegations of any fraud or rigging levied by Chattha. The caretaker Chief Minister of the Punjab has ordered an immediate impartial probe into the allegations of manipulation of the voting process. For its part, the Election Commission has constituted a high-level committee to investigate the charges, and so far, all the DROs of the alleged constituencies have given their written testimony denying any wrongdoing in the voting process. It should also not be forgotten that all the claims of fraud and rigging by Chattha have been made without any sound documentary proof or reliable witness statements: it is just the word of one high-ranking government official against the Chief Election Commissioner and the Chief Justice of Pakistan. 

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) has demanded the resignation of the Chief Election Commissioner and announced anti-rigging rallies across the country on Saturday to change the results. Khan, who has been in prison since last August, said the public mandate was stolen. 

According to the Election Commission, no commissioner in any division is ever appointed as district returning officer or returning officer, nor do they play a direct role in the conduct of elections. But the allegations have definitely ignited a new and fierce debate in the country. Zahid Hussain, an author and political analyst, said the commissioner’s confession confirmed that there had been large-scale rigging in general elections. He said the massive riggings and the senior bureaucrat coming out in public had pushed the country into a deeper crisis. In a handwritten letter addressed to the Governor of Punjab, the Chief Minister and the provincial Chief Secretary Chattha said that he was resigning from his post as he was “deeply involved in serious crimes like mega polls rigging 2024.” He further added that “stabbing the country in the back does not let me sleep at night and I should be punished for the injustice I have done and others who were involved in this injustice should also be punished.” 

Mr Chattha is due to retire on the 13th of March and he has yet to explain that if he was forced to commit fraud, as to why did he not speak up on the day of the polling, and instead spoke up ten days after the polls. According to all election experts, the commissioner of a division does not have an official role in the conduct of general elections, but is capable of an unofficial influence on the conduct of elections. In this case, the Deputy Commissioners of all six districts of Rawalpindi Division including Attock, Murree, Chakwal, Jhelum and Talagang were appointed as District Returning Officers or DROs, and the commissioner did not have a direct role in the election process. So far all the DROs have given their written affidavits to the enquiry committee denying any influence or pressure from any side, or any poll rigging by them. 

But who is this senior official the bureaucrat who has disturbed the hornets’ nest and created such a huge national crisis that the nation could hardly afford at this juncture? Liaqat Ali Chattha, the Commissioner of Rawalpindi Division, belongs to Hafizabad Punjab and has risen to his present position from the ranks. He began his career in the civil service as an executive magistrate in 1992 and held the position of executive District Officer in Faisalabad from 1992 to 2012. He was also Deputy Secretary in the Chief Minister’s Secretariat during the tenure of Shehbaz Sharif as Chief Minister and then as DC Gujrat. And in 2017, he was appointed DC Sargodha. Subsequently he served as Secretary Housing, Urban Development and Public Health in the Government of Punjab. He assumed the role of Commissioner Dera Ghazi Khan in August 2022. During his career, Chattha provided facilities at gymkhanas and general bus stands in Gujrat, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rawalpindi. Additionally, while serving in Rawalpindi, he reinitiated various projects, including the Ring Road, Daducha Dam, Chahan Dam, Pirwadhai Bus Stand, and Safe City. Chattha was reportedly close to former ISI chief General Faiz Hameed. According to investigative journalist Umar Cheema, special directives were issued to favour Chattha on multiple occasions during Faiz's tenure in the ISI.

Reportedly, he is under investigation in a total of 11 corruption cases. One of these cases involves Chattha's purported involvement in the fraudulent acquisition of land meant for Imran Khan's sister Uzma Khanum. 

Now the Pakistan Bar Council has demanded an independent commission to investigate the charges, and its executive committee chairman described the move as a malicious attempt to raise a controversy about the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan. 

Whatever the cause or intent of this latest bombshell from the Rawalpindi commissioner, the entire nation is deeply worried about the ongoing political uncertainty, particularly about the allegations of pre- and post-poll rigging. It is now the national duty of the Election Commission to remove all doubts about the elections and make sure that only the genuine winners in all constituencies are notified before the National Assembly meets to elect the leader of the House.