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Army to deploy troops at some polling stations

Updated May 10, 2013
Returning office staff packing the general election relegated material during handing over to concerned authorities at Session Court under the supervision of Pakistan Army. — Photo by APP
Returning office staff packing the general election relegated material during handing over to concerned authorities at Session Court under the supervision of Pakistan Army. — Photo by APP

ISLAMABAD: The army has decided to modify its election security plan and to deploy troops at ‘prioritised polling stations’ among those categorised as ‘most sensitive’.

“Despite very little reaction time for a change in the finalised security plan, for which deployment of all the law-enforcement agencies has already been completed and coordinated, in deference to the Election Commission’s request the General Headquarters has ordered troops to modify and strengthen their plans and deploy at the most sensitive polling stations to the extent possible,” Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa told Dawn on Thursday.

He said priority for deployment would be based on threat assessment by the local civil administrations in coordination with the intelligence apparatus, law-enforcement agencies and local army commanders. “These deployments will be solely meant to provide assistance in security duties for elections as envisaged under Article 245 of the constitution,” the official said.

The army made the decision in response to a letter sent by Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim to COAS Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, seeking presence of troops at the most sensitive polling stations across the country to serve as an effective deterrent to violence and rigging.

“The letter from the CEC had been received at the GHQ only yesterday, when deployment of around 70,000 troops to act as a ‘rapid response force’ had already been completed,” Maj Gen Bajwa said.

Retired Justice Ebrahim had said in his letter that he had been informed that the army had finalised its plans for assisting the law-enforcement agencies on the polling day.

“I have been given to understand that this plan is focused on rapid deployment units which will respond to any untoward incident within a short span of time. Whilst I am certain that this plan has been developed after considering all relevant factors, I feel compelled to raise my concern that this may be inadequate for some polling stations where army presence will be necessary.”

He acknowledged the limitations of the army in terms of resources but said the most sensitive polling stations were no more than 14,000.

He, therefore, called for considering the possibility of ensuring suitable army presence at the most sensitive stations throughout the country.

“You have consistently told me in our meetings that Pakistan needs free, fair and timely elections and whilst it appears that they will be timely, we still need to work together to ensure that they are free and fair.”

The CEC said the political parties and the administration had been reminding him that the success of the elections would depend on law and order on the polling day.

ALLEGATION REJECTED: The chief election commissioner has rejected an allegation levelled by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf that all decisions at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) were being taken by its member from Punjab.

“Members of the ECP are entirely independent and neutral individuals who have no political affiliations whatsoever. We all work together as a team and participate in all decisions which are taken by the commission as a whole,” a statement issued by the ECP quoted the CEC as saying in response to the accusation.

He said the record of the ECP spoke volumes of its independence.

A request by the PPP, he said, to allot its symbol to its covering candidate in PS 73 after Murad Ali Shah was disqualified by the Supreme Court had been forwarded by the ECP to the returning officer concerned -- the competent authority under the law -- who had rejected the application. A similar application from the PML-N was also rejected on Wednesday.

The commission confirmed that it had received a letter from the secretary to the president, expressing concern over deteriorating law and order situation in the country during the election campaign. The letter also expressed reservations that some local officials in the government machinery were favouring certain parties and urged appropriate action.

The ECP said it had asked the secretary to the president to provide details of officials against whom there were allegations of bias so that action could be taken, but it was still awaiting a response.

It said the responsibility of maintaining law and order rested with the provincial governments and law-enforcement agencies.

However, the concerns raised in the letter from the presidency had been shared with the quarters concerned with a request to take necessary action to provide security to candidates and parties contesting the elections, the ECP said.