Friday March 01, 2024

Punjab, KP elections: Military to brief ECP on troops’ availability today

March 10, 2023

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), with Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja in the chair, would be briefed about the availability of troops today (Friday) for the upcoming elections to the Punjab and KP assemblies.

The commission has asked for about 300,000 troops for protection of more than 50,000 polling stations in Punjab.

Well-placed sources told The News Thursday evening that Director General Military Operations (DGMOs) Major General Avais Dastgir would brief the commission about the possibility or otherwise of availability of the required number of troops.

The sources maintained that the future of the polls will hinge upon the briefing that could prove make or break for the holding of polls as per schedule.

The defence sources had already informed the commission about their inability for provision of the required number of troops.

The commission has decided to approach all the institutions afresh in the wake of the verdict of the apex court for ensuring elections within 90 days.

The sources said some defence personnel from the ISI and other outfits would also be turning up for the briefing.

Interestingly, the ECP has sought Rs15 billion from the federal government to gear up for the elections.

The demand for the funds was made during a meeting held between officials of the ECP and Finance Ministry.

The officials from the finance ministry tabled an overview of the country’s economic situation. The commission told the interlocutors of the ministry concerned that it would need Rs65 billion for the general elections in the country. “The ministry is facing severe difficulties for day-to-day expenses.”

During the meeting, the ECP sought Rs15 billion from the government for conducting elections in Punjab and KP. Sources added that the finance ministry had already provided Rs5 billion to the commission in this regard. The electoral watchdog has tabled its demand for immediate release of Rs10 billion.

Meanwhile, sources claimed that the ministry had assured the ECP that its demand would be tabled before the government. Officials noted that the withdrawal of resignations from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MNAs had saved the cost of by-election.

The ECP, in a meeting with the officials of interior and finance ministries, sought funds and security for the upcoming elections. The ECP has demanded that the federal government “urgently” release Rs10 billion for the elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, as the electoral watchdog had already been provided with Rs5 billion of the estimated Rs15 billion for this purpose.

During a meeting presided over by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, Finance Secretary Hamed Yaqoob Sheikh was briefed on the expenses that would be required to hold the polls in the two provinces.

Interior Special Secretary Syed Ali Murtaza, who also attended the huddle, was asked to ensure the presence of Rangers and Frontier Corps personnel at polling stations to ensure the security of the elections.

The commission also directed him to contact the defence secretary and GHQ in connection with the security-related affairs. The ECP decided that it would contact the defence secretary itself as well and direct him to ensure the deployment of army troops during the elections.

The commission told the finance secretary that provision of funds for the elections was the government’s constitutional responsibility.

Last month, the finance ministry had refused to provide funds for the elections in the two provinces, citing the country’s fiscal challenges, especially in the wake of last year’s devastating floods and the ongoing census.

“The Government of Pakistan is going through an unprecedented economic crisis and facing fiscal deficit. Under these challenging circumstances, [it] has to ensure funds for flood affected areas and the census, besides meeting expenses on running of the government and provision of sectoral subsidies. In such a scenario, arrangement of funds for unplanned/un-budgeted expenditure would put additional financial burden on the economy,” the finance ministry told the ECP in a letter.

The finance ministry informed the commission that the country was under an IMF programme and had strict targets for maintaining fiscal discipline and deficits.

It asked the ECP to consider deferring its demand for funds until the economic conditions improved.

In another letter, the interior ministry has informed the ECP that civil and armed forces personnel could not be spared for election duties because of the difficult security situation arising in the wake of a recent spike in terrorism. It also added that military troops were required to undertake widespread deployment for conducting the census from February 27 to April 3. In a related development, the ECP has invited the KP Governor Ghulam Ali at its secretariat in Islamabad for final consultations on March 14 at 2pm.