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Saturday April 13, 2024

Army not available for polls duty, ECP told

Defence ministry says army's "first priority" security of borders, country

By Mumtaz Alvi
March 15, 2023
Soldiers stand guard as election officials carry election materials at a distribution centre in Islamabad. — AFP/File
Soldiers stand guard as election officials carry election materials at a distribution centre in Islamabad. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab government, defence ministry and provincial police chief Tuesday conveyed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in categorical terms that provision of fool-proof security for the upcoming general election to the provincial assembly was impossible.

Arrangements for fool-proof security were linked to assistance from the law enforcement agencies, including the army.

The current security, law and order and economic situation was cited as the reason to the Election Commission not to go for elections.

Secretary and additional secretary defence said the security of borders and country was the army’s top priority and that due to the current situation in the country, it was presently unavailable for the election duty. They noted that the army could perform as a quick response force and would not be available for static duty.

To this effect, three important meetings of the Election Commission were held under the chairmanship of Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja.

The meetings were attended by members, secretary and other senior officials of the Election Commission.

In the first meeting, Punjab’s chief secretary (CS) and IGP briefed the Commission about the general election of the Punjab Assembly, the law and order situation in the province, security concerns, economic problems of the province and other difficulties.

The IG said deployment of police for the election day was not their only duty but they also had to secure the general public and prevent crime.

He said during the 2018 elections, 3,330 political meetings and campaign events were held, whereas there would be more than those activities during these elections, so it was very difficult to provide security keeping in view the current law and order situation.

He added that police action had been initiated against criminals in the Kacha area and it will take four to five months. He said there was a strong hope that the situation will be better for the conduct of elections after the completion of operation.

The chief secretary said at present 40,000 teachers were on the census duty and they will also perform duty in the matriculation examinations, while the elections were also being held in April. In addition, the staff is also needed for wheat procurement.

The chief secretary and IG Punjab categorically stated that keeping in view the prevailing overall economic and law and order situation of the country, foolproof security could not be provided in the April 30 elections unless other law enforcement agencies, including the Pakistan Army, performed duties to assist the police.

The chief secretary said it was not just the purpose of holding elections, but it was necessary to hold a clean, transparent election. He said it was not possible to hold elections in these circumstances.

The second meeting was held with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Ghulam Ali in which he apprised the Commission of the law and order situation in the province and the issues of merged districts.

Secretary Defence Lt Gen (retd) Hamood-uz-Zaman Khan and Additional Secretary Defence Major General Khurram Sarfraz Khan briefed the Commission on the current situation in the country, the borders and deployment of troops in the country. They also briefed the forum about the overall law and order situation in the country.

They contended that the army attached importance to its basic duties in which the security of the borders and the country was their top priority. Apart from this, it was noted that the current economic situation of the country also has an impact on the army and that it will be the decision of the government whether in view of these circumstances, it restricts the army to performing basic duties or secondary duties i.e. election duty. They also made it clear that in case of election duty, the army could be deployed in quick response force (QRF) mode.