MUZAFFARABAD: Polling for 45 general seats of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Legislative Assembly concluded on Sunday afternoon after several incidents of violence in different constituencies which left two men dead and scores of others, including five policemen, injured.
Around 700 candidates were in the fray on behalf of different parties, but main contestants were the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and AJK’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
The polling began at 8am and concluded at 5pm with temporary interruptions and suspensions in several areas in the wake of scuffles and armed clashes between political workers.
In LA-12, Kotli-IV, an armed clash broke out between the supporters of Chaudhry Shaukat Farid of the PTI and Chaudhry Mohammad Yasin of the PPP in the jurisdiction of Naarr police station after a dispute over “one-sided voting” and an alleged assault on Mr Yasin.
Two killed, many injured in clashes; four soldiers martyred in accident
In a video message, Mr Yasin accused his rival candidate and his supporters of unleashing a barrage of bullets on his vehicle and said he had narrowly escaped an ‘attempt on my life’.
He alleged that the PTI candidate was holding “one-way polling” in four polling stations after blocking the road to the area with tractor trolleys and when he reached there he came under their attack.
However, he admitted in his message that “some mishap” had occurred at the place.
Mohammad Azad, an official at Naarr police station, told Dawn that two supporters of Shaukat Farid, the PTI candidate, lost their lives in firing by PPP activists. One of them, Zaheer Ahmed, 40, died on the spot while the other, Mohammad Ramzan, 50, succumbed to his wounds on way to hospital.
In a quick response to the incident, Pakistan Army teams reached the polling station, restored peace and resumed polling after a gap of one hour, an official at the election commission said.
In another incident in Haveli, one person suffered bullet injury during a clash between PPP and PTI workers, leading to a brief suspension of polling, police said.
Elsewhere, scores of people, including five policemen, were injured in knife and baton attacks, according to police.
Even though the election commission had employed more than 43,500 personnel of police, civil armed forces and the army to maintain law and order, candidates in some constituencies complained of poor law and order arrangements.
Chaudhry Tariq Farooq, the ruling PML-N candidate in LA-7, Bhimber-III, alleged that at least four polling stations in his constituency were captured by PTI activists, but the law enforcement personnel failed to eject them.
“They are casting bogus votes. [The] DRO [district returning officer] is there, but he cannot control the situation. Army [is] needed there to stop them and take the charge of these polling stations,” he said in a WhatsApp message to different groups, an hour before the polling concluded.
However, AJK’s Inspector General of Police Dr Sohail Habib Tajik termed the law and order situation satisfactory “when viewed against the backdrop of high political temperature and polarisation and the absence of military deployment at polling stations”.
“With available resources and capacity this is an achievement,” he claimed.
In Muzaffarabad, where almost all TV channels had camped since Saturday, polling remained peaceful from beginning to end.
“Thank God, there was not a single unpleasant incident. Everyone was cordial to others,” a female presiding officer in the Plate area told Dawn.
Interestingly, the PPP and PML-N leaders who had long been voicing their “fears” about “theft of elections” kept on filing mostly trivial complaints to the election commission throughout the polling process about “rigging by PTI candidates”.
AJK Chief Election Commissioner retd Justice Abdul Rashid Sulehria and both members of the election commission had already ruled out rigging, saying they had ensured a foolproof system, leaving little room for manipulation of results.
On Sunday, the trio jointly and separately visited several polling stations in and around Muzaffarabad and later flew to some other parts of the state by a chopper.
Earlier at 9am, while speaking to the media at a polling station, Mr Sulehria said he expected no less than 60 per cent turnout in view of zealous involvement of political parties in the electoral process.
The CEC, however, refused to take questions about federal minister Ali Amin Gandapur, asking journalists “to forget him and have some other good conversation”.
Four army soldiers embraced martyrdom while three others and a civilian driver were injured when an Army QRF team vehicle employed for maintenance of law and order in support of the elections plunged into a ravine while taking a steep turn in the Lesva area.
According an Inter-Services Public Relations press release, the injured were evacuated to a nearby medical facility for treatment.
The deceased were identified as Subedar Liaqat Ali, Sepoy Sultan Mehmood, Sepoy Murtaza Ahmed and Sepoy Muhammad Zameer.
Sudedar Liaqat was a resident of Gujranwala and he is survived by two sons and one daughter.
Sepoy Sultan belonged to Bhimber and he is survived by one daughter. Sepoy Murtaza was a resident of Barnala district and he had one son. Sepoy Zameer was a resident of Kotli.
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2021