ISLAMABAD / PESHAWAR: Backtracking on his decision to hold elections to the provincial assembly on May 28, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Haji Ghulam Ali has called for addressing “key challenges” before a new date for the polls is announced.

In a letter sent to the Election Commission of Pakistan in response to the watchdog’s communication asking him to formally set a date for the provincial assembly polls, the governor instead of conveying the date said KP remained an epicentre of terrorism due to long-drawn war against terrorism and security-centric policies.

“Post-US withdrawal (from Afghanistan), establishment of IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) by Tehreek-i-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) and inconclusive reconciliation process have compounded the internal security challenges in Khyber Pakhtun­khwa,” reads the letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.

It says kinetic threats include IEDs attacks, suicide bombing, cross-border attacks, raids, targeted killings, extortion and abduction.

Writes to ECP detailing threats from across the border; police chief says foolproof security for polls not possible

“Illegal spectrum, ethno-sectarian divide, presence of Anti-State Anarchists / societal pressure groups and anti-Armed Forces propaganda have compounded the internal security mosaic,” it reads.

The letter says that after having been sufficiently reorganised and re-energised during the reconciliation process, the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) established a “shadow” government in Pashtun areas of the country and broke the ceasefire agreement to start massive terrorist drive in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

A number of times, TTP warned not to hold polio campaigns, census for elections and other development activities, particularly in merged areas. Currently, the trajectory of terrorist incidents is going upward.

For the first time, provincial assembly’s elections are being held both in merged districts and settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa simultaneously. The security situation in merged districts is more fragile owing to settlement of terrorist groups over there from across the border. The resident threat in merged districts is almost 100pc more than settled districts. Due to this threat, free movement of politicians and polling staff is not possible.

Though merger process started five years ago, its actualisation could not materialise due to non-provision of 3pc NFC Award beside other factors, it says.

Level playing field

It adds all political parties were apprehensive of the looming threat and have conveyed it through media that level playing field was not provided to them, as the terrorists target all parties and spare the one who brought the terrorists back in the ‘name of reconciliation process’.

It says almost all political parties had apprehensions in view of uncertain security situation, and were thereby opposing holding of elections unless the threat was minimised.

The governor said the terrorism incidents were on the rise and saw a five-time increase in 2022 as compared to 2019. He said the number of incidents may cross the figure of 600 this year, pointing out that 80 incidents took place in January and February only.

Threat from across border

The threat mostly emanates from across the border after which terrorists go back to their safe havens across the border. Mostly, terrorist incidents occurred in merged districts and southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa owing to its proximity with Afghanistan and local facilitation in the area. A total of 4,864 threats have been received and 835 incidents occurred between January 2021 and February 2023 out of which 1,829 threats were received and 319 incidents occurred in past six months.

He said the KP province was heavily indebted to Asian Development Bank and World Bank as well as its security and administrative machinery was largely engaged in counterterrorism and mainstreaming of ex-Fata region, thereby it was not conducive to afford the holding of elections.

It would be a great constitutional anomaly and matter of concern if the provincial assemblies’ elections were conducted on old census and delimitation and after the already scheduled fresh census NA elections will be held on new census, leading to a dichotomy between both, necessitating fresh provincial assembly elections.

“The position would be made even worse when the by-elections arising out of proposed general elections in the provinces are held on the new census as by then the presently undergoing census would be completed.

“Keeping in view the volatile security situation, non-availability of additional security personnel, fragile financial conditions, constitutional anomalies emanating from census and delimitation process, it is recommended that before going to general elections, above mentioned challenges be addressed first. It may not be out of context to mention here that such like electoral situation had arisen in the past and catered for under the constitution of Pakistan and Elections Act. For the sake of public interest, it is suggested that in furthering our consultation process, the election date may be appointed after taking all stake holders on board including Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence and keeping in view ongoing anti-terrorist operations, which are likely to culminate in few months,” the governor in his letter said.

Meanwhile, during an important meeting of the commission held here on Friday, the chief secretary and police chief also spoke on similar lines, saying that fool-proof security for polls was not possible. They said terrorists were involved in spring offensive, which witnesses surge in terrorist activities from April to October.

The KP police chief said in case elections to the provincial and national assemblies were held separately, not only the expenditure would double but also the threat to law and order would increase.

The chief election commissioner asserted that conduct of general polls was a constitutional obligation and the ECP had already completed consultative process and would shortly make a decision to this effect.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2023

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