ISLAMABAD: Warning against possible violence in the run-up to general elections, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Secretary Babar Yaqoob told the Senate on Monday that according to his assessment, there was a possibility of attempts to sabotage the upcoming polls.

“We think that an effort will be made at an international level to sabotage the elections but it would not be appropriate to share details here. We are ready to inform you in an in-camera meeting,” he said while briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Interior about security arrangements for the election day (July 25).

Mr Yaqoob said the ECP was committed to holding elections within 60 days, but there was always the possibility of unexpected incidents taking place. “During the 2013 elections, there were so many security issues, not only in Quetta, where a district election commissioner died in a bomb blast, but there were also grenade attacks at five places in Balochistan. Security issues had also arisen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi. Similar incidents could happen again and we fear that the training centres of returning officers could be attacked, so we took the chief secretaries of all provinces on board to ensure security. Training of assistant presiding officers is currently under way,” he added.

He said the ECP had decided to install surveillance cameras at 20,000 of the 85,000 polling stations across the country. However, that number should be increased to at least 60,000, he suggested.

Responding to a question, Mr Yaqoob said that it might not be possible for the ECP to appoint armed forces personnel at all polling stations.

Commission fears attacks on training centres of returning officers

“We have talked to the army [about it] but we should understand that it won’t be possible for them to withdraw such a large number of personnel from the eastern and western borders. I think army officials will only be deputed at sensitive polling stations. On the other hand, as many as 350,000 police officials will be required if five officials are to be deputed at each polling station,” he said.

Senator Azam Khan Swati of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) said it was unfortunate that politicians had never tried to make the police an institution. If the police were an institution, like the army, there would be no need to call in the army, he stressed, adding that he had suggested that the ECP provide various facilities to the polling staff, including food.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri said that during the elections in his constituency in 2013, polling could not take place at 14 polling stations and the results of 36 polling stations had not been handed over to polling agents.

Responding to a question about whether the biometric system could be installed at every polling station, National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) Chairman Usman Yousaf Mobin said it would be hard to install good quality biometric machines at 85,000 polling stations.

“We have installed quality biometric machines at Nadra offices but there are only 550 offices across the country,” he said.

Separately, while discussing the attack on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal during a public meeting in Narowal, the additional Punjab IGP said the investigation is under way and its results would be shared soon. He said police had arrested five suspects belonging a religio-political party and he could give an in-camera briefing in this regard.

Senator Rehman Malik said negligence on the part of security officials deputed to ensure the minister’s security should be identified. He said it was a matter of grave concern that the country’s interior minister was not safe. “Ahsan Iqbal told me he had received a phone call and he had raised his arm to take the call, which is why the bullet had pierced his arm rather than his lungs,” he said.

Taking notice of a leaked video statement by the attacker, Mr Malik directed the additional IGP to suspend the officers who were investigating the culprit.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2018

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