Army declines troops for election duty

LHC also refuses ECP request to spare judicial officers for the task


Saqib Virk February 09, 2023
PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD:

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 harder after its requests for army soldiers for security and judicial officers for conducting voting were declined on Wednesday.

According to the officials, the General Headquarters (GHQ) excused itself from providing army, Rangers and Frontier Corps troops for deployment for security during the elections, while the Lahore High Court (LHC) told the ECP it could not spare judicial officers for the voting in Punjab.

“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 unfeasible,” the GHQ said in a letter to the interior ministry.

“Nonetheless, given limited deployment needs, Pakistan Rangers Punjab troops can be provided in 2nd Tier (QRF mode) for conduct of National Assembly By-Election in Rajanpur on 26 February,” added the letter, addressed to the interior secretary.

The letter explained that both the armed forces and the civil armed forces, besides their routine border management tasks, were overwhelmingly committed in addressing internal security challenges in view of prevalent enhanced threat of terrorism across the country.

“In addition, they will also be required to undertake widespread deployment for achieving secure conduct of the Census-23 from February 27 to April 3, 2023 across Pakistan, as announced by Government of Pakistan,” it added.

The ECP had requested the deployment of Army and the paramilitary Rangers for the by-election and the provincial general elections. The ECP had also requested the judiciary for the provision of officers for appointing them as the district returning officers (DROs) and the returning officers (ROs).

However, the LHC has also excused itself from deploying judicial officers for the elections duty in Punjab, sources said. They added that the LHC registrar had sent a letter to the ECP on the instructions of the LHC chief justice, declining the ECP request.

The letter referred to a huge backlog of pending cases as the reason for not letting its officers to perform the elections duty. The letter said that millions of cases were pending in the Punjab courts, therefore, it was very difficult for the judicial officers to participate in the electoral process.

The by-elections are triggered after National Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf accepted the resignations of dozens of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers. The PTI members had resigned on the instructions of party chairman Imran Khan, following his ouster from the government in April last year.

Also, the provincial assemblies of Punjab and K-P– the two provinces where the PTI was in government with the help of its allies – were dissolved last month also on the instructions of Imran, who wanted to force the federal government to call general elections in the country.

As per the constitutional provisions, elections would have to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the assemblies. So far, the ECP has held many meetings on the provincial elections but no date of the voting had yet been announced, despite the passage of almost a month.

The ECP met again on Wednesday to discuss the preparations for the general elections and the by-election. The meeting, chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, was attended by ECP secretary, finance secretary and other senior officials.

During the meeting, the ECP received separate briefings from Punjab Chief Secretary Zahid Akhtar Zaman and Inspector General of Punjab Police Dr Usman Anwar on the elections preparations as well as the law and order situation in the province.

The chief secretary proposed to the ECP to hold both the NA by-polls and the provincial assembly election on the same day to save expenditures. However, the IGP said that conducting the vote would be a “difficult task” until a police operation against terrorists was concluded in four to five months.

The chief secretary told the electoral supervisor that the provincial government had started preparations for National Assembly by-polls, devising of a security plan and installing CCTV cameras at all sensitive polling stations.

While pointing out that there was a “serious threat” of terrorism in Punjab, he said that a control room would be set up in each district during the elections. He maintained that holding elections separately would make it harder to provide security for the polls.

He said the law-enforcement agencies would not be able to provide fool-proof security if elections were held on separate days. He claimed that Rs42 billion would be required to maintain the law and order during the elections, noting that the provincial government was facing a financial deficit.

Besides, the chief secretary added, the administrative officials would be busy keeping prices in check during the month of Ramazan, while the law-enforcement personnel would deployed for the security of mosques and religious gatherings during the holy month.

Also, the chief secretary further said, officials and law-enforcement agencies would be busy conducting census, starting in March, noting that children’s examinations, polio vaccination campaign and wheat procurement would also be held during this period.

The IGP told the meeting that terror attacks and threats were increasing in the province. While submitting different reports on terrorism, the Punjab police chief observed that various terrorist groups were present in Bhakkar, Mianwali and Dera Ghazi Khan.

As sought by the ECP, he added, 412,854 police personnel were required for the conduct of the polls in a peaceful manner, adding that Punjab police only had a force of 115,000. To fill this shortage of 300,000 personnel, He stressed that the services of army and Rangers would be required.

The IG maintained that the holding of elections would be a “difficult task” until the conclusion of police operation against terrorists in riverine areas of South Punjab and other districts of province, which, he added, was expected to be completed in four to five months.

(WITH INPUT FROM OUR LAHORE CORRESPONDENT)

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