Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar has said he sees no possibility of a delay in general elections due to the security situation at Pakistan’s borders.
The interim premier expressed these views when asked about the possibility during an interview with Voice of America (VOV) Urdu.
“I see no such possibility at present. Although there is an alarming situation on our western and eastern frontiers in which the security threat and the required response mechanism are being enhanced, we are sure that we will control the situation and complete the electoral process at the same time,” he said.
The PM’s statement comes amid growing demand from various quarters for immediate announcement of the poll date by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which has already said elections will be pushed beyond the constitutionally mandated period of 90 days following the dissolution of the National Assembly on May 9.
The electoral watchdog reasons its decision to push elections beyond November 9 on the basis of the notification of results of the new digital 2023 census and Section 17(2) of the Elections Act, which states: “The commission shall delimit constituencies after every census is officially published.”
Meanwhile, President Dr Arif Alvi has proposed to the ECP to hold general elections by November 6, citing a constitutionally mandated time frame for the polls.
Earlier, he also invited the chief election commissioner (CEC) to a meeting to decide on a date for the elections. But the CEC declined the invitation, referring to a recent amendment to the Elections Act 2017 that empowered the commission to announce the dates for polls unilaterally without having to consult the president.
PM Kakar has been of the same view, saying on various occasions that appointing a date for elections and organising the polls was the ECP’s mandate and that the caretaker government’s job was just to assist the commission.
He reiterated this stance in the interview with VOA when asked about reasons due to which the caretaker government was unable to end the “speculation surrounding elections”.
“I don’t believe that the caretaker government should intervene and address such speculations.
“Primarily, according to the law and Constitution, it (organising polls) is the Election Commission of Pakistan’s job, and we are certain that they are performing this task with sincerity.
“They have already initiated the process, and they are fulfilling some constitutional requirement, probably pertaining to delimitation … and they will soon announce the [poll] date,” PM Kakar said.
He also assured that the interim government had been taking measures regarding the provision of assistance for holding elections.
“The caretaker government fulfils the Election Commission Pakistan’s requirements and provides assistance wherever required on a daily basis,” he said.
Asked whether the caretaker government would raise any objection if the Supreme Court ruled that elections be held in the 90-day period, he reiterated his stance that it was not for the interim government to raise any such objection.
Holding elections was the ECP’s mandate and the interim government to provide it will all the needed assistance for polls, he asserted.
‘Pakistan will take action in defence wherever necessary’
When asked whether there were any options for surgical strikes and drone attacks in Afghanistan were on the cards given the growing threat from banned militant outfit Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), he said: “Pakistan has the right to defence. Wherever we will feel the need for action to protect our land and people, we will take it.”
He added, “I will not go into specifics of the operational decisions that Pakistan can take. But when the need arises due to this threat, we will take decisions accordingly.”
The PM further said Pakistan’s interests were the top priority in talks with the Afghan Taliban.
He also dispelled the impression that the Afghan Taliban were not agreeing to Pakistan’s demands, further stating that Islamabad, too, was not making any specific demands from the rulers in the neighbouring country.
The premier referred to the Doha deal — under which the Taliban agreed not to let Afghan soil be used against other countries — saying he believed that the Afghan Taliban too were convinced that abiding by this agreement was needed for strong and amicable relations with neighbours in the region.
“Reason behind the agreement’s conditions not being fulfilled could various … We are playing our role regarding this and are engaged on the rights forums on the role that we expect the other side to play,” he added.
The premier also maintained that trade ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as Central Asia, were improving.
Ties with Gulf countries
He also dismissed the impression that Pakistan was becoming isolated on the world stage after growing ties between Gulf countries and India.
Nations join and move away from blocs in the global arrangement on the basis of convergence of interests and conflicts of interests.
“A similar situation is seen regarding the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council),” he said, adding that the GCC was exporting hydrocarbon in large quantities.
“Will they compromise the export market comprising 1.5 billion Chinese and join a bloc the idea for which is being imagined? I don’t think so,” he said, apparently referring to a new ports and railway corridor for the Middle East and South Asia that is conceived to include train links to India.
Press freedom and Imran
Answering a question about the state of journalistic freedom in the country and an alleged restriction on the broadcast of PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s name in the media, the premier rebuffed the notion and said: “You can take anyone’s name. I think Pakistan’s indicators regarding journalistic freedom of expression are still much better — if not the best — relative to the region.”
The premier maintained that there was no issue, from human rights to the conduct of state institutions to economic reforms, on which journalists did not have permission to raise their voices or the opportunity to air their thoughts.
Questioned further on the PTI chief and whether the cases against him proved right the perception that it was an attempt to exclude Imran from politics, the prime minister said it was a sub-judice matter and the conclusion of judicial proceedings was awaited.
“If this is the perception which is going forward [about Imran’s attempted exclusion from politics] then I don’t think it is correct.
“I hope the judicial process will be transparent so his (Imran) followers and other observers see this is not a process to remove anyone from politics but the law of the land taking its course.”