ISLAMABAD  - The apparently strange justification on the part of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to refuse the supervision of thumb impression verification by NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) has caught the poll authority in a quandary.

On one hand, the ECP cites the constitutional provisions to claim having exclusive and unchallenged authority regarding everything concerning the conduct of free and fair polls while on the other hand, it cites the same constitution to express helplessness in holding the thumb impression verification exercise under the commission’s supervision.

Former secretary ECP Kanwar Dilshad questions the rationale behind, what he believes, the commission’s lame excuse to shy way from the responsibility.

“I think the ECP fears that supervising the conduct of thumb impression verification exercise would expose hundreds of thousands of fake and unverified votes the way it has happened in certain parliamentary constituencies. That’s why the commission cites the neutrality factor and makes extremely unjustified efforts to shy away from its duty. Not to forget that the ECP had boisterously claimed having introduced foolproof security features in the ballot papers to eliminate fake voting from the general polls,” he told The Nation Friday.

Dilshad argues the issue of thumb impression verification purely concerned the general elections and it completely fell within the ECP’s domain. “If this issue is outside the ECP’s purview, whose jurisdiction is it then? My friends at the ECP better go through the Articles 218 (3) and 220 before offering senseless arguments to get rid of their constitutional, legal, moral and official responsibility.”

The former secretary ECP recalls several instances involving, general, presidential and local government elections whereby the ECP assertively claimed that it shall be the duty of the election commission to organise and conduct the election and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against, in the light of Article 218 (3) and it shall be the duty of all executive authorities in the federation and in the provinces to assist the commissioner and the election commission in the discharge of his or its functions in the light of Article 220.

On December 16, Joint Secretary Ministry of Interior Aftab Alam had written to the Secretary ECP Ishtiak Ahmad Khan, “In keeping with the provisions of Articles 218 (3) and 220 of the constitution and the government’s unequivocal declaration that all possible assistance and cooperation will be provided to the Election Commission of Pakistan in the matter of verification of thumb impressions of voters, and in order to ensure complete transparency in such verification, the Federal Government intends to entrust/vest in NADRA, for a period of three months, all functions/powers relating to verification of thumb impressions, to be performed/exercised, as the case may be in accordance with the directions of the Election Commission of Pakistan and relevant provisions of the constitution and law, without further reference to the federal government.”

In response, the secretary ECP had written to Secretary Interior Shahid Khan on Thursday, “The commission after in-depth consideration has observed that the powers and functions of the commission envisaged by the constitution and the law do not seem to provide for exercising the power or issuing of any direction regarding verification of thumb impressions or for that matter any other action being undertaken by any institution or executive authority of the federation or of a province, especially when such exercise or action is being carried out or done as a result of an electoral activity conducted by the commission itself. In such a case, only a neutral arbiter such as a court of law or a judicial tribunal can take cognisance of any dispute arising out of an electoral activity.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Additional Secretary ECP Syed Sher Afgan had said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had requested the ECP in a letter to put NADRA under the ECP’s administrative control while the interior minister denied making any such request, saying he had only suggested to the ECP to have an oversight of NADRA’s operational side related to thumb impression verification, for three months.

“We have the documentary evidence supported by a letter from interior minister that clearly shows that he was the one who had requested the ECP to take NADRA under its administrative control for three months,” Sher Afgan had said.