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ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Interior decided on Wednesday to hold an in-camera briefing from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and intelligence agencies on whether international powers want to disrupt the upcoming general election.

The committee, which is chaired by Senator Rehman Malik, also directed the interior ministry to take measures to ensure foolproof security during the elections.

Interior Special Secretary Rizwan Malik briefed the committee on the ministry’s ancillary departments and the security arrangements for the election, but was interrupted by Senator Javed Abbasi, who wanted to discuss a claim by the ECP during the last interior committee meeting.

ECP official said last month that there could be international attempts to disrupt general election

He said ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob had said he was ready to give an in-camera briefing about “international powers that can try to influence the election”.

On May 28, the ECP secretary had claimed before the committee on interior that, according to his assessments, attempts could be made at the international level to sabotage the upcoming general election and said that he was ready to share details in an in-camera setting.

The next day, former Senate chairman Senator Raza Rabbani had written to key constitutional functionaries suggesting that the ECP secretary be summoned to the committee of the whole and enlighten the committee on the alleged international conspiracy regarding the elections. The meeting has not been held to date.

Senator Malik, attempting to defend the ECP, said the commission did not mean that the election would be sabotaged. He said that as the ECP secretary had been deputed in Balochistan in 2013, he meant there were chances of violence during the elections.

However, Senator Abbasi disagreed.

“[The ECP secretary] clearly said that some international powers do not want free and fair elections and they will disrupt them. He had information that should be shared with the committee. We should hold an in-camera meeting to discuss the issue because it will give us an idea of which powers are against the elections and we will be able to play our role to address the issue,” he said.

The committee chairman agreed to hold the in-camera briefing and it was also decided to have intelligence agencies participate. The date for the briefing will be announced later.

Report on Zulfiqar Bukhari sought

The committee on Wednesday also sought a detailed report from the Ministry of Interior on Zulfiqar Hussain Bukhari, a close aide of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, who travelled abroad on May 11 despite being place on the blacklist.

Mr Bukhari travelled to Saudi Arabia with Mr Khan to perform Umrah after he was given a “one-time” six-day exemption by the interior ministry.

Senator Mian Ateeq Shaikh said: “The special flight was delayed and within 26 minutes, not only was Mr Bukhari’s name removed from the blacklist but a letter was also issued. In a statement submitted in the Islamabad High Court by Mr Bukhari, it is claimed that Imran Khan called someone in the Ministry of Interior due to which the name was removed from the blacklist.”

He suggested that Qalandar Khan, the exit control list (ECL) section officer who signed the letter permitting Mr Bukhari to leave the country, should be called to the committee and asked who submitted the application, how the file was moved from one table to another and how the ministry officials had become so efficient.

He also suggested asking the official if the ministry has the same response to average citizens’ applications.

Mr Malik from the ministry said the National Accountability Bureau had written a letter asking for Mr Bukhari’s name to be placed on the ECL, but this decision can only be made by the federal cabinet.

“So as per the practice, we put the names of such persons on the blacklist to ensure that they do not leave the country. As the name could not be included in the ECL, the interior minister was empowered to remove the name,” he explained.

However, Senator Abbasi said only the federal cabinet was authorised to remove the name from the list and alleged that this was only done due to individuals’ influence.

Mr Malik said that Qalandar Khan could not attend the meeting scheduled for today (Thursday), after which the committee directed the ministry to submit a detailed response within three days.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2018