• Defence ministry says army not available for election duty
• Punjab says foolproof security for elections impossible, without army’s assistance

ISLAMABAD: Khyber Pakh­tu­n­khwa (KP) Governor Haji Ghu­lam Ali on Tuesday fixed May 28 as the date for general polls to the provincial assembly, without officially communicating the decision to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The decision to set the poll date was announced by the governor during a brief interaction with reporters after his meeting with ECP representatives for final consultation.

Informed sources told Dawn that no specific date or dates were proposed by the commission during the meeting, but the governor observed that election campaign during Ramazan would not be possible and candidates should have sufficient time for campaigning after Eid-ul-Fitr.

An official said a letter would be written to the KP governor asking him to officially convey the poll date to the ECP.

The poll date fixed by the governor comes exactly four months after the dissolution of the assembly and coincide with the silver jubilee of Pakistan’s emergence as a nuclear power.

Informed sources told Dawn that the KP governor during a meeting with the commission expressed his reservations over the prevailing security situation in the province. Besides police lines tragedy, he said, police in different districts of the province were faced with the challenge of terrorist attacks. He noted that the electoral candidates would find it difficult to run poll campaign. He said both the contesting candidates and the voters should be protected.

Before attending the meeting at the ECP, the KP governor called on President Arif Alvi and discussed with him matters relating to the holding of general elections in KP in the light of Article 224(2) of the Constitution and the March 1 order of the Supreme Court.

President Alvi advised the governor to implement the SC order in letter and spirit wherein the governor had been directed to consult the ECP and forthwith appoint a date for the holding of the general election to the KP Assembly to avoid unconstitutional delay.

Meanwhile, the defence ministry has told the ECP that the army is not available for election duty.

Defence Secretary Lt Gen (retd) Hamooduz Zaman Khan and Additional Secretary Maj Gen Khurram Sarfraz Khan briefed the ECP on the country’s prevalent situation and the military’s deployment in different parts of the country and on the borders.

According to a press release issued by the ECP, they said the army attaches importance to its primary duties, as security of the borders and the country was its first priority. They said the army was not available for election duty at this time, due to the present situation in the country.

The ministry officials said the current economic situation was also affecting the army. However, they added, in the end it would be the government’s decision whether it kept the military restricted to its primary duties or appointed it for secondary tasks such as election-related duties.

They also said the army could perform as a quick response force and would not be available for static duty.

Earlier, the chief secretary and Punjab police chief briefed the commission on general election to the provincial assembly, the law and order situation in the province and the peaceful conduct of elections, security concerns, economic problems of the province and other difficulties.

The IGP said police deployment was not limited to the day of election as it was also their duty to ensure protection of the citizens and prevention of crime.

He recalled that during the 2018 elections, 3,330 political meetings and campaign events were held, whereas even more activities were expected during the upcoming elections, and therefore it would be very difficult to provide security keeping in view the current law and order situation.

He also shared the details of the operation against criminals in the Kacha area, and said it would take four to five months to complete. “After the operation, there is a strong hope that the situation will be better for the conduct of elections,” he said.

The chief secretary said currently 40,000 teachers were performing census duty and the same teachers would perform duty during matriculation examinations in April, when elections were also scheduled to be held.

The chief secretary and IGP categorically stated that keeping in view the prevailing overall economic and law and order situation, foolproof security could not be provided for the April 30 election, unless other security agencies, including Pakistan Army, assisted the police.

It was not just about holding elections, rather ensuring clean and transparent elections, the chief secretary said, adding that in the given circumstance it was not possible to hold elections, “especially if scattered elections are held i.e. now provincial elections are held now and later the National Assembly elections will be held”.

All the three ECP meetings were held under the chairmanship of Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and were attended by commission members, secretary and other senior officials.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2023

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