MUZAFFARABAD: At least 43,500 personnel of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) police, civil armed forces from other provinces and the army will be deployed to maintain law and order during the upcoming general elections, in what is being said to be the heaviest troops’ deployment in any AJK polls.
“In order to hold free, fair, transparent and impartial electoral exercise, the administration under the directions of the [AJK] Election Commission is laying main emphasis on ensuring law and order so as to provide a peaceful atmosphere to both the contesting candidates and the voters,” said AJK chief secretary Shakeel Qadir Khan at a media briefing.
He said free, fair and transparent elections were a constitutional and legal obligation and government machinery was required to assist the election commission in this regard, under Article 50 of the AJK Constitution and section 5 of AJK Elections Act, 2020.
Flanked by additional chief secretary (general) Dr Syed Asif Hussain, Inspector General of Police Dr Sohail Habib Tajik and secretary information Midhat Shahzad, the chief secretary said that 5,300 policemen from AJK, 12,000 from Punjab police, 10,000 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police and 1,000 from Islamabad police, 400 Frontier Constabulary personnel and 3,200 Rangers personnel had been requisitioned to maintain law and order.
They would be backed by six to seven thousand Pakistan army personnel, he added.
The chief secretary said that of the total 5,123 polling stations, 826 had been declared sensitive and another 1,209 the most sensitive.
Sharing the deployment plan, he said eight security personnel will be deployed at the most sensitive, six at the sensitive and four at normal polling stations.
All government departments, such as communications and works and electricity, had been kept on their toes regarding their relevant arrangements for the elections, he said, adding, Eid holidays of all government servants had also been curtailed to only one day – the day of Eidul Azha.
The chief secretary said that apart from all presiding officers and regular magistrates, around 250 other officers had also been given magisterial powers so that they could make timely decisions on the spot.
He maintained that all required financial resources had been provided to the election commission and administrative machinery, mainly the district administration and police, had been placed at its disposal.
The code of conduct issued by the commission for the official machinery was also being implemented in letter and in spirit, he claimed.
In this regard, he said, a complete ban on postings, transfers and promotions of government servants was being observed, except for inevitable cases where prior approval was sought from the commission.
Similarly, he said announcement and execution of all new development schemes had also been halted.
When the chief secretary was questioned in the context of allegations by the PML-N and PPP leaders as to how elections could be stolen, he replied that he was at a loss to understand the purpose of this particular allegation.
Elucidating, he said the election process comprised three phases and in the first phase polling materials had to be safely delivered at the polling stations by 8am on July 25.
In the second phase, polling had to be conducted peacefully and transparently from 8am to 5pm and in the third phase, ballot boxes were to be safely transported to the offices of the returning officers and then district returning officers after on the spot counting, he said.
“We will take as many steps as possible to make these three phases secure.”
Responding to a question, he admitted that there had been lapses in implementation of Covid-19 SOPs during the election rallies.
He maintained that since participation in the election process was the constitutional right of every citizen the administration could not stop anyone from it.
However, he claimed that once the election process was over, the administration would strictly ensure observance of the Covid-19 related SOPs.
Responding to another question, the chief secretary said that control rooms had been set up at central and district level to receive and share information round the clock.
He made it clear that security personnel would be stationed on the premises of polling stations, but not inside the booths.
He urged the media to publish or air any news only after obtaining authentic information in this regard.
Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2021