The Interior Ministry has informed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that the armed forces would not be able to perform security duties during the provincial assembly elections in Punjab and KP as well as by-elections on 64 National Assembly seats as it was busy conducting census and counter-terror operations, it emerged on Thursday.

Earlier this week, the electoral body had written to the federal government, seeking the deployment of troops of civil armed forces for the conduct of general and by-elections in various constituencies of the national and provincial assemblies.

In its correspondence dated Feb 8, which Dawn.com has seen, the Interior Ministry said that Pakistan was going through a difficult security situation as evidenced by a recent spike in incidents of terrorism across the country.

It mentioned the multi-dimensional security concerns which include border security, internal security duties, maintenance of law and order and deployment at forward posts to counter the increased terrorist activities by miscreants and anti-state elements.

The ministry noted that intelligence agencies and the National Counter Terrorism Authority have been issuing threat alerts regarding the security situation prevailing in the country, which have also been shared with the provincial governments.

It regretted that a number of terror incidents took place in the last month leading to the loss of precious lives. One of these was the suicide bombing at a mosque in the Peshawar Police Lines that killed more than 80 people, mostly policemen.

In this context, it is to be noted that security forces are fully engaged in combatting the threats posed by terrorists to the peace and stability of the country and the life and property of the people, the letter said.

It said the onslaught of terrorist activities tested the capacity of the law enforcement agencies to the maximum extent leaving little room to spare for other activities.

It further highlighted that a terrorist organisation had openly threatened politicians and there was apprehension that the political leadership could be potential targets during the election campaign.

The Interior Ministry said that the ECP’s request was also taken up with the Military Operations Directorate at the General Headquarters (GHQ) as it was a key stakeholder.

According to the letter, it was conveyed that both the armed and civil forces, besides their routine border management tasks, are overwhelmingly committed to addressing internal security challenges in view of the advanced threat of terrorism in the country. In addition, the troops are also required to undertake widespread deployment for achieving secure conduct of the census.

Apropos, their availability for the desired deployment during the conduct of by-elections on 64 National Assembly seats in four provinces and the conduct of provincial assembly elections in KP and Punjab remains unfeasible, it stated.

However, for little deployment needs, Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) could be provided for the second-tier NA by-elections in Rajanpur.

In view of the above, the Interior Ministry said that the deployment of civil armed forces to the extent required by the ECP, both in terms of numbers as well as deployment in static numbers, at all sensitive and highly sensitive polling stations in all constituencies of all provinces, may not be possible as advised by the MO Directorate, GHQ.

Increased terror attacks

Over the past few months, the law and order situation in the country has worsened, with terrorist groups executing attacks with near impunity across the country.

Since the talks with the TTP broke down in November, the militant group has intensified its attacks, particularly targeting the police in KP and areas bordering Afghanistan. Insurgents in Balochistan have also stepped up their violent activities and formalised a nexus with the outlawed TTP.

According to statistics released by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), January 2023 remained one of the deadliest months since July 2018, as 134 people lost their lives — a 139 per cent spike — and 254 received injuries in at least 44 militant attacks across the country.

Most recently, more than 80 people — mostly cops — lost their lives during a suicide attack at a mosque in Peshawar’s Police Lines. The TTP had earlier claimed responsibility for the attack. It later distanced itself from it but sources earlier indicated that it might have been the handiwork of some local faction of the banned group.

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