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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk will chair a meeting of the Apex Committee in Peshawar on Thursday (today) to discuss matters pertaining to security for electoral candidates, caretaker Interior Minister Muhammad Azam Khan informed the Senate on Wednesday.

The house unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the cowardly terrorist attack on a corner meeting of the Awami National Party (ANP) in the Yakatut area of Peshawar, claiming the lives of 20 innocent people, including Barrister Haroon Bilour — a candidate from Peshawar’s PK-78. It urged the caretaker federal and provincial governments to apprehend the culprits and unearth and break this nexus between enemies of Pakistan.

Situationer: ANP in the cross hairs

Minister Azam Khan said that according to a report received from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, some friends had invited Haroon Bilour for a cup of tea at the place where he was attacked. He asked political leaders to cooperate with the administration in the interest of their own security.

Senate condemns attack on ANP’s corner meeting

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani announced that he would constitute a committee to review security threats to candidates. He said the Ministry of Interior and the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) would give the committee reports on security threats.

Earlier, members belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement regretted the withdrawal of security for politicians and assailed the caretaker government for its failure to provide security to Haroon Bilour despite Nacta’s warning that the ANP leadership was under threat.

Former interior minister and chairman of the Senate’s standing committee on interior Rehman Malik observed that whatever was happening was part of a larger agenda. He said the militant Islamic State group was active in the region, while Al Qaeda also had presence in Pakistan. He said the two organisations and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had formed a syndicate and were hell-bent on violence in the upcoming general elections.

He said a senior Nacta official during a recent meeting of the interior committee had disclosed the names of politicians under threat and particularly mentioned Asfandyar Wali Khan, Haider Hoti and a local ANP leader, besides Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan.

He said the situation required all the chief ministers, home secretaries and inspectors general of the police to hammer out a strategy to deal with the situation and formulate standard operating procedures (SOP) not only for elections, but also prior to elections.

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman said the elections should not become controversial, and a level-playing field should be given to all. “There is no security or level-playing field,” she complained, lamenting that despite clear warnings, no security had been provided to the politicians under threat. She said it was the responsibility of the state and the government to provide security to politicians and candidates. She said making the ensuing elections secure should be its foremost priority. Ms Rehman also disclosed that her vehicle had been chased by two dubious vehicles recently.

Sardar Azam Moosakhel of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party said the situation was worsening as a war on the basis of likes and dislikes had broken out. “Some forces do not want the people having the guts to talk about people’s aspirations to reach the assemblies.”

Senator Shibli Faraz of the PTI also said a level-playing field was the democratic right of all candidates. He said the leaders and candidates under threat must be provided security. He said the Election Commission was constitutionally mandated to hold free and fair elections.

Former information minister Pervez Rashid said Pakistan used to be a country free from the scourge of sectarianism and the words of terrorism and suicide jackets were not known to its people till a few years ago. He called for accountability of those responsible for dividing the nation. Referring to the decision to deploy armed forces personnel at all polling stations, he said, “If we are capable of keeping an eye on all voters, why can’t we keep watch over a handful of terrorists.”

Parliamentary leader of the MQM in the Senate Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif condemned the Peshawar attack and termed all such incidents a result of faulty policies. He noted that the upcoming elections would not be free and fair and said, “These will in fact be compromised polls.” He regretted that conditions were being created where candidates would find it difficult to campaign. He said the institutions responsible should be accounted for. He said a suicide bomber did not act in isolation, but through a network, and if that could not be tracked, it’s because of negligence. Rana Maqbool of the PML-N said no ac­ti­on had been taken despite warnings and said responsibility should be fixed for this fiasco.

Maula Bux Chandio of the PPP said the ANP and PPP had not been allowed to campaign in the previous general elections. He said security had been withdrawn from those under threat and lamented that those who were not threatened enjoyed rides in armoured personnel carriers.

Chaudhry Tanvir of the PML-N said the hands of all political parties were being tied to give a specific political party an advantage. Musaddik Malik of the same party criticised the ECP for suspending local governments. “How can a constitutionally formed institution be suspended?” he asked.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2018