ISLAMABAD: Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has directed army troops to be deployed at polling stations during coming general elections to follow the code of conduct of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in letter and spirit.

During a visit to the election support centre of the army on Thursday, the COAS said the army would assist the ECP strictly within the bounds of the given mandate. He said working in synchronisation with other elements of security apparatus, the army troops would put in place all efforts to ensure secure and safe environment enabling people to freely exercise their democratic right.

The army chief was given a briefing about the army plan for provision of assistance to the ECP to ensure free, fair and transparent conduct of the elections.

ECP secretary informs Senate panel 800,000 security personnel will perform poll duty; ISPR chief says security of candidates is govt, ECP responsibility

In a related development, Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor told the Senate Standing Committee on Interior that the army would have no direct role in conduct of the elections.

He said the army’s role in providing security for the polls did not mean that it was taking direct responsibility of politicians’ security. “Security of political candidates is the responsibility of the government of Pakistan and the ECP. We are assisting the election commission for security during polling,” he said while speaking at a special session of the Senate committee.

The ISPR chief said 371,000 troops would be deployed at polling stations across the country and they would strictly follow the ECP’s code of conduct and the list of dos and don’ts.

The meeting was presided over by committee chairperson Senator Rehman Malik and attended by, among others, the federal interior and defence secretaries, ECP secretary and national coordinator of the National Counter terrorism Authority (Nacta).

Rejecting as baseless rumours about the army’s perceived efforts to influence the outcome of the elections, Maj Gen Ghafoor said the army was only working on the ECP’s directives to maintain law and order situation.

Elaborating the election duty assigned to army personnel, he said: “The armed forces have always lent support to civil institutions. The security situation is being improved in the entire country to hold elections.”

The ISPR chief refused to divulge the strength of armed forces personnel to be deployed in Quetta near where a suicide blast at an election-related gathering claimed lives of around 150 people. “Leave the planning side to us; we know how many troops have to be deployed where. We have analysed every place from the security point of view. We have made deployments as per the need in Balochistan,” he said in response to a question by Senator Kulsoom Parveen.

About coordination with Afghanistan, he said Pakistan had been assured of reciprocal support from the Afghan side on the security front. “When the elections took place in Afghanistan, we took extraordinary measures on this side of the border. This time, the Afghan president phoned the prime minister of Pakistan and the army chief to assure us of their cooperation.”

ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad told the meeting that 800,000 security personnel and 700,000 polling staff would perform election duties.

“Keeping in view the events of 2013, the ECP has taken the decision to deploy teh army,” he said.

He made it clear that it would be the presiding officers who would be calling the shots and rejected the perception that the army would have the control of polling stations and would be free to act.

Mr Muhammad said the troops deployed at polling stations would be required to report to the presiding officer and returning officer in case of attempts to stuff ballot boxes.

Answering a question posed by Senator Javed Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz if there was precedence in any other country of deploying troops in and outside polling stations, the ECP secretary said the decision had been taken in the light of “the security situation of our country and the threats at polling stations as indicated by Nacta”.

Pointing out the number of sensitive polling stations across the country, he said there were grave security threats on the occasion of elections. Security of polling stations, candidates and polling staff was a big challenge, he added.

Mr Muhammad told the meeting that the ECP had taken up the matter of letters written by army officers to returning officers summoning them for meetings, at the highest level. He said an apology had been tendered and assurance held out that it would not happen again.

The ECP secretary took exception to the allegation levelled by Senator Saadia Abbasi, sister of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, that the ECP was playing a partisan role. “The parties represented here had framed the law and had appointed the chief election commissioner and [ECP] members,” he said and deplored that attempts were now being made to make the commission controversial.

Javed Abbasi also referred to complaints of pre-poll rigging and said corruption cases were being initiated against a single political party which was being denied level playing field.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2018

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