ISLAMABAD / QUETTA: A day before neighbouring Afghanistan goes to polls, Pakistan deployed additional troops on its side of the Durand Line as part of efforts to ensure smooth and peaceful presidential elections.
The announcement came after a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and attended by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, army chief Gen Raheel Sharif, ISI’s Director General Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam and PM’s Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatimi on Friday.
The meeting discussed measures to beef up security along the Pak-Afghan border to ensure a trouble-free election.
According to a statement issued by the military’s media wing, additional troops have been deployed on the Pak-Afghan border since March 20 to reinforce existing security arrangements for the conduct of peaceful elections in Afghanistan. However, it did not provide the exact number of troops deployed along the border.
“A host of measures have been taken for the purpose after due deliberation and coordination with Afghan security forces. Checking by immigration staff at crossing points has been enhanced and patrolling has been increased in the areas close to the border,” said the ISPR statement. “All crossing points have been closed from Friday till the polling concludes on the election day.”
It further said that communication at Border Coordination Centres on both sides has also been enhanced and a hotline has been established between the two Military Operations directorates. Additionally, aerial surveillance will also be carried out to check any untoward cross-border movement, it added.
The Chaman border crossing was sealed with stringent security arrangements in place. “No vehicle was allowed to cross the border on Friday,” said a border official. “However, people can cross the border on foot.” A long queue of trucks, trailers and pickups was seen near the Chaman border.
According to a Balochistan Home Department official, the Pak-Afghan border will remain closed for two days. “Trade activity will resume on Sunday,” he said.
No right to vote
Around 1.6 million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan, including half a million living in Balochistan, will not be able to use their right of franchise in today’s election in their country.
Tadin Taraki, 59, is keenly interested in electing Afghanistan’s president, but he cannot vote. “I don’t know what to do but I’m sure I’ll not be able to vote,” he said. “All I want is restoration of peace in my country.”
Taraki is one of the hundreds of refugees residing in a refugee camp near Kuchlak, in Quetta. “There are more than 427,000 refugees residing in 14 different camps but they cannot exercise their right to vote.”
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Balochistan spokesperson Najeebullah Tareen said, “The refugees will not vote in this Afghan presidential election. No organisation either from European Union or from Afghan government approached Pakistan to show their interest to make arrangements for Afghan refugees enabling them to use their right of franchise,” he told The Express Tribune.
The Afghan refugees in Pakistan last cast their vote in 2004 when Hamid Karzai was elected. “The European Union’s agency and Afghan government had approached Pakistan and the UNHCR five months ahead of the elections to make arrangements. Polling stations were set up in refugee villages. However, there had been no arrangements during the re-election and this time again,” Najeeb explained.
In Peshawar too, Afghan refugees expressed their dissatisfaction over the lack of arrangements for voting on both sides of the border.
A refugee Saida Jan said they have no idea whether the border will remain completely or partially closed for them, adding that a large number of refugees, particularly those hailing from Kabul, cannot make it to cast their ballot. Kabul is completely sealed and no one will be allowed to enter the city, depriving a large number of voters of their right to vote.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2014.