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Election violence despite army, police deployment

May 18, 2013

The heavy presence of police, the patrolling of rangers in parts of the city and troops placed on call as a quick response force could not limit violence in Rawalpindi district as five supporters of two political parties were gunned down and 18 others were injured in clashes at various places on May 11.

The number of supporters of political parties killed and injured on the day was perhaps the highest across the province, plaguing government efforts to provide a peaceful atmosphere to the contesting candidates, their supporters and voters.

According to the police, 14 criminal cases, including two murder cases, were registered with the police on the polling day. The two murder cases involved five people; one was registered with the New Town police while the other with the Gujar Khan Police.

The New Town circle was the worst hit area as most of the violence had been reported there.

Among those booked by the police in the election related violence were Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz candidate from NA-56, Mohammad Hanif Abbasi and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf’s candidates Chaudhry Mohammad Asghar and Omer Tanveer Butt, contesting election for PP-14 and PP-10 respectively.

A Pakistan People’s Party candidate from PP-12, Babar Sultan Jadoon, along with his brother, was also booked by the police on charges of hurling threats of dire consequences to the returning officer.

Since the schedule for the general elections was announced and a caretaker set up was brought in, the reshuffling of district administration and police was announced to ensure impartial and peaceful atmosphere for elections.

In line with government efforts, comprehensive security plans were chalked out by the district police and special police were recruited. To assist the regular police, 26 reserves from Punjab Constabulary and three companies of Rangers were also called in.

In addition, 14-companies of army, each comprised of 120 personnel, were placed on call as a quick response force to handle any untoward incidents.

Moreover, more than 90 polling stations were categorised as highly sensitive where extra security measures were taken to prevent any violence observing their previous history.Daultala town, which falls in the limit of Jatli police, had not been categorised as highly sensitive polling area. However, it turned out to be tenser as four people were gunned down in a clash between two groups over the polling.

Unfortunately, the delayed police response gave an opportunity to three of the suspected killers identified in the murder case to obtain their pre-arrest bail from the court of law and avert their arrests. The PTI candidate for PP-4, Chaudhry Sajid Mehmood and his brother Chaudhry Zahid Waheed Ahmed were also nominated in the murder case, but the police have been unable to arrest them even though both had not sought a pre-arrest bail.

According to assistant superintendent of police (ASP) Ghulam Murtaza, the trouble started at the women polling station when some female voters arrived there after the extended polling time was over, and the presiding officer prevented them from polling their votes.

“This created panic among the women of the opponent group who had already polled their votes, and a verbal clash started between the women belonging to the Gujar group (PTI supporters) and the Sheikh Group (PML-N supporters) who had been old rivals,” the ASP said, adding that the issue was settled at the time and the women had left the polling station peacefully.

Upon reaching home, the PTI supporters clashed with their rivals, resulting in the injury of four persons all belonging to the Sheikh group.

As the injured were shifted to the Tehsil hospital, the PTI supporters chased them and attacked them, killing three of them the same night.

When asked why the issue had not been resolved at the initial stage by the police and the army’s assistance was needed, the ASP said, “An army officer had arrived soon after the brawl among the women was reported, but the actual clash happened after both groups exchanged fire with each other upon reaching their homes.”

However, some questions remain un-answered, especially as to why the police had not acted promptly when the brawl had taken place between the female voters at the polling station.

A similar situation emerged at Rehmanabad where the election offices of PML-N and PTI were located close to each other, even though there had been reports that the situation there could turn tense after the polling was over. A PTI supporter was killed due to gunshots fired apparently by a PML-N supporter.

When senior superintendent of police Mujahid Akbar was asked whether the rangers or army were called to assist the police, he said he had called the rangers but they were not available.

The Election Commission of Pakistan, in its code of conduct and reminders to the police, had asked the police to implement the instructions the ECP had issued. The question remains as to whether the police had ensured the ban on the use of arms and checked clashes between the political rival groups?

The registration of a large number of criminal cases and reports of the violation of the ECP code of conduct clearly belied the claims of the police and the district administration that a neutral set up had been brought to ensure that smooth elections were conducted.

The violation of the code of conduct had started since the election schedule was announced, as leaders of major political parties brought out rallies without prior permission of the district administration, and serious violation were witnessed on the polling day.

Parking of vehicles was strictly banned close to the polling stations, but at some, vehicles were seen parked inside. Moreover, there was no traffic plan for the polling day resulting in traffic jams on various roads of the city.

No such case came to light in which the police rounded up people displaying or using arms during the election campaign or on polling day.

The ECP had clearly mentioned that the political agents and the district returning officer would be responsible for effective implementation of the code of conduct.

Critics say it would be a test for the PML-N government and the PTI leadership; whether they would allow the law to proceed against their own party leaders and workers involved in criminal cases or not. Also violations of the code of conduct had been committed by the two party leaders as they had brought out election rallies without prior permission of the district administration.