Pakistan Army refuses to provide troops at polling stations.
ISLAMABAD: After its requests for army soldiers for security and judicial officers for conducting voting were denied on Wednesday, the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) task of conducting vote for the vacated National Assembly seats as well as the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa assemblies got more difficult.
According to the sources, the Lahore High Court (LHC) informed the ECP that it could not spare judicial personnel for the voting in Punjab while the General Headquarters (GHQ) excused itself from supplying army, Rangers, and Frontier Corps troops for deployment during the polls.
The GHQ wrote to the interior ministry stating that “their [troops] availability for desired deployment during conduct of By-Election on 64 National Assembly seats in four provinces and conduct of provincial assembly elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remains unrealistic.”
The letter, sent to the interior secretary, continued, “However, given restricted deployment demands, Pakistan Rangers Punjab personnel can be provided in 2nd Tier (QRF mode) for conduct of National Assembly By-Election in Rajanpur on February 26.”
The letter emphasised that, in addition to their regular border management duties, both the armed forces and the civil armed forces were steadfastly committed to tackling internal security issues in light of the country’s pervasive and increased threat from terrorism.
Additionally, according to the announcement made by the government of Pakistan, “they would also be required to execute broad deployment for accomplishing secure conduct of the Census-23 from February 27 to April 3, 2023 across Pakistan.”
For the by-election and the provincial general elections, the ECP had asked for the Army and the paramilitary Rangers to be deployed. Additionally, the ECP had asked the judiciary to provide officers for their appointment as district returning officers (DROs) and returning officers (ROs).
However, according to sources, the LHC has also excused itself from sending judges to Punjab to work the elections. They further mentioned that the LHC chief judge had instructed the registrar to send a letter to the ECP denying the request.
The letter cited a substantial backlog of unresolved cases as the justification for not allowing its officers to carry out their election-related duties. According to the letter, it was extremely challenging for the judicial officers to take part in the voting process because there were millions of cases still outstanding in the Punjab courts.
The resignations of numerous Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) legislators were accepted by National Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, which led to the by-elections. Following Imran Khan’s resignation from the cabinet in April of last year, the PTI members left on his orders.
On Imran’s orders, the provincial assemblies of Punjab and K-P—the two provinces where the PTI was in power with the assistance of its allies—were also dissolved last month. Imran sought to pressure the federal government into holding national elections.
Elections must be held in accordance with the provisions of the constitution 90 days after the dissolution of the assembly. Despite nearly a month having passed, the ECP has had numerous meetings regarding the provincial elections but has not yet revealed a date for the polling.
The ECP gathered once more on Wednesday to go over the by-election and general election preparations. The ECP secretary, finance secretary, and other senior officials were present at the meeting, which was presided over by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja.
The ECP heard separate updates on election preparations and the state of peace and order in the province from Punjab Chief Secretary Zahid Akhtar Zaman and Punjab Police Inspector General Dr. Usman Anwar during the meeting.
To cut costs, the chief secretary suggested to the ECP that the provincial assembly election and the NA by-election be held on the same day. The IGP did note that until a police operation against terrorists was finished in four to five months, administering the ballot would be a “tough assignment.”
The provincial government had begun making plans for the by-elections for the National Assembly, the chief secretary informed the electoral supervisor, and had installed CCTV cameras at all crucial polling places.
He stated that a control room will be set up for the polls in each district despite the fact that there was a “severe threat” of terrorism in Punjab. He insisted that holding separate elections would make it more difficult to maintain polling place security.
If elections were held on different days, he claimed, police enforcement would not be able to offer foolproof security. He stated that the province government was in financial deficit and that Rs42 billion would be needed to ensure law and order during the elections.
The chief secretary further noted that while law enforcement personnel would be deployed to ensure the security of mosques and religious events during the holy month of Ramadan, administrative authorities would be occupied controlling pricing during that time.
The chief secretary added that beginning in March, officials and law-enforcement organisations would be busy conducting censuses, noting that this time would also see children’s exams, a polio vaccine campaign, and wheat procurement.
The IGP informed the gathering that the province was experiencing an increase in terrorist threats and attacks. The Punjab police head said that numerous terrorist groups were present in Bhakkar, Mianwali, and Dera Ghazi Khan while submitting various reports on terrorism.
He stated that 412,854 police officers were needed, as requested by the ECP, for the smooth conduct of the elections, but Punjab police only had a force of 115,000 officers. He insisted that the army and rangers would be needed to make up the 300,000 personnel shortfall.
According to the IG, holding elections would be a “tough task” until the police operation against terrorists in South Punjab’s riverine areas and other province districts, which is anticipated to be finished in four to five months.