QUETTA: Amidst surging pre-poll violence in Balochistan, Pakistan Army and paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) will launch a 15-day-long ‘targeted operation’ across the volatile province in order to ensure the May 11 elections are held in a peaceful atmosphere.
“The operation will begin 10 days before the elections,” provincial Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani told a select-group of journalists at a special briefing on Sunday. However, he clarified that army troops would not be deployed at the polling stations.
“The army is being called out to assist the law-enforcement agencies to build confidence of political parties and their supporters in the administration,” Durrani said. “As many as 6,500 army soldiers, 17,000 FC men, 28,000 police and 15,000 Levies (tribal police) will be deployed in all 30 districts and 92 tehsils of the province,” he added. “Quick Response Units will provide security to the election staff and voters.”
A senior military official told The Express Tribune that unlike the other provinces, the army would have a different role in Balochistan. He did not elaborate. This comes a day after thousands of schoolteachers refused to perform election duties in the ‘sensitive districts’ of the province due to threats from Baloch separatist groups.
A medley of Baloch separatist groups has vowed to sabotage next month’s elections. They have stepped up attacks on election candidates and their supporters since the announcement of election schedule in order to deter them from taking part in the elections.
Caretaker Chief Minister Nawab Ghous Bakhsh Barozai, meanwhile, said that he was satisfied with the security arrangements being put in place for peaceful elections in the province. He has recommended aerial surveillance by army to keep a tab on the movement of insurgents and saboteurs.
Home Secretary Durrani added that army helicopters would conduct surveillance of the towns bordering Iran and Afghanistan.
On Saturday, one of the three factions of the Government Teachers Association, Balochistan – which claims to represent over 6,000 schoolteachers – refused to perform election duties in 11 districts of the province citing security reasons.
However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) warned that disciplinary action would be taken against any teacher who refused to show up for election duty. Home Secretary Durrani said that they have a contingency plan in place for such an eventuality. “We’ll send the employees of other provincial government departments for election duties,” he added.
The decision to launch the ‘targeted operation’ was prompted by frequent complaints by nationalist and mainstream political parties – including Balochistan National Party-Mengal, National Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – that their candidates were unable to campaign freely in some districts due to the fluid security situation.
Political parties are especially concerned about the security situation in the Baloch-dominated areas of the province where violence continues unabated.
On Saturday, four workers of Jamaat-e-Islami were wounded in a crude bomb attack on their office in Sibi. Police also defused two explosive devices which were planted outside the houses of two election candidates in Pasni and Turbat. Similarly, police also defused three bombs planted near the house of a National Party candidate, Kabda Khan, in Pasni.
Police has also received complaints of harassment of voters and election candidates by the Balocistan Liberation Army and Lashkar-e-Balochistan in Khuzdar and Qalat districts.
In Quetta however, election activity is gradually gathering momentum. Candidates from PkMAP, JUI-F, PML-Q, BNP and PML-N are defying threats from insurgents and holding corner meetings under the protection of police and FC.
The security situation in the provincial capital is far from satisfactory. On Sunday, an election rally of Shams Mengal, an independent candidate for PB-5 (Quetta), was attacked with a homemade bomb on Sariab Road.
“The bomb was planted in a bicycle in the Faizabad neighbourhood of Sariab Road,” police official Mohammad Sharif told The Express Tribune. “At least three people, among them two children, were slightly wounded in the blast,” he added.
According to the Bomb Disposal Squad, the explosive device weighed around 4kg and it was remotely detonated. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bomb attack.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2013.
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