Delaying AJK polls

Published June 2, 2021

A NEEDLESS controversy is being dredged up over the upcoming elections in Azad Jammu & Kashmir. The PML-N and the PPP have both objected to a proposal by the National Command and Operations Centre to delay the polls due to the Covid-19 situation. The NCOC has written a letter to the AJK prime minister suggesting that a delay in the polls would enable a large number of people in the area to get vaccinated. The letter also says election campaign activity could lead to a surge in infection and therefore it may be better if the schedule is pushed ahead. The two parties, however, say that the PTI is deliberately trying to delay the elections because it is in a weak position and wants time to break away candidates.

While the fears of the PML-N and PPP may have some grounds after the experience of the Gilgit-Baltistan elections — in which the PTI successfully weaned away many electables from the other parties — the Covid-19 situation presents an altogether different argument. The NCOC as the apex body driving Pakistan’s fight against the pandemic has worked in a professional manner since its formation in March last year. It has displayed an inclusive approach and has risen beyond partisan interests. To its credit, it has taken correct and timely decisions that have led to Pakistan successfully containing the infection to a level where it has not overwhelmed the country’s health infrastructure. Therefore when the NCOC wades into political waters — which is what this letter to the AJK prime minister amounts to — it does so with a lot of credibility at its back. The elections are supposed to be held within 60 days after July 29 when the present set-up completes its term. The NCOC is in the middle of pursuing an aggressive vaccination strategy and its head Asad Umar has correctly said that at this stage the virus must be controlled through vaccinations and not through lockdowns. The PPP and PML-N should therefore display some flexibility in their stance. This would require the government to take these parties into confidence about the situation of the infection and vaccination in AJK and convince them to agree to a delay in polls. This would be the right approach to ensure that the people of Azad Kashmir remain safe from any further surge in the infection. Let us not convert a public health issue into a political one.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2021

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