• Interior minister highlights ‘general threat’ to politicians, but ‘specific alert’ for Fazl
• Says Afghans residing legally will also be deported if found involved in political activities
ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Ahmed Bugti emphasised the government’s readiness to ensure peaceful general elections but at the same time acknowledged the terrorist threats faced by political leaders in the run-up to the February polls.
Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Mr Bugti highlighted a general threat to political figures, with a specific alert for JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
He acknowledged the vulnerability of political leaders to terrorism during public rallies and gatherings, labelling it a significant challenge in the current climate of terrorism. He also pointed out the reluctance of political figures to limit their public appearances, preferring to engage directly with the electorate.
The minister said there was a history of terrorist activities during election days and recalled that many political leaders, including former premiers Shaukat Aziz and Benazir Bhutto, Nawab Sanaullah Zehri and Mir Siraj Khan Raisani, were targeted during election campaigns and political rallies from 2002 onwards. He, however, vowed to provide the people with an opportunity to freely exercise their right to vote.
Answering a question, he said the government was ready to provide civil armed forces for the Feb 8 elections, but he refused to indicate the army’s availability for poll-related security duties.
“Our paramilitary forces are busy in counterterrorism and other operations, but despite all this, we will meet the requirement of the Elections Commission of Pakistan (ECP) regarding the deployment of civil armed forces,” he said.
The remarks came days after the ECP wrote to the interior ministry seeking deployment of the army and civil armed forces outside the polling stations and a quick response force to meet the shortfall of over 277,000 police personnel.
Giving the details, Mr Bugti said that paramilitary forces that came under his command were busy in operations.
“Rangers are doing operations in katcha areas of Sindh in difficult conditions. FC (Frontier Corps) Balochistan is overstretched in south and north in deteriorating security conditions of the province,” he said. Besides, the Frontier Constabulary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was combating terrorist attacks, he said.
At the same time, he told reporters that the army’s deployment for elections was the domain of the Ministry of Defence.
On the issue of Afghan migrants, Mr Bugti said that all foreigners, including Afghans, residing legally in the country would also be deported immediately if found engaged in political activities.
He made it clear that any Afghan refugee or any foreigner who is either on a business or on any other visa or with any status would be deported within no time if found involved in local politics. “The right of politics only belonged to us (Pakistanis). We will do politics while remaining within the Constitution,” he said, stressing that the Constitution did not allow any foreigner on a visa to do politics in Pakistan.
The minister informed that around 10 foreigners had been identified initially and the number of such people involved in political activities was growing. All such people would be deported regardless of their legal status, he said.
The caretaker minister said that over 482,000 illegal Afghan immigrants had left the country through various borders since the government started the deportation drive, with over 90 per cent returning voluntarily.
Emphasising that the first phase of the deportation drive was still underway, he said that everyone has to go back in the second stage. “Finally, the time is coming when only Pakistanis will live in Pakistan,” he said.
About reports that Afghanistan’s interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, had a Pakistani passport until recently, the interior minister said that they were holding an inquiry into the matter.
He said that fake Pakistani national identity cards and passports were made in the past through identity theft. “We are digging out more cases of fake identity cards and passports, but it will take some.”
Mr Bugti said that Pakistan would no longer remain a soft state and would not allow anyone to come here without a visa or legal documents. All those behind such identity thefts and the officials of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) would be brought to justice. He said that many inquiries were being held into the matter and many officials have been suspended.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2023