ISLAMABAD: Pakis­tan Army on Thursday agreed to deploy troops and provide the requisite support for the safe conduct of Feb 8 general elections.

The decision came at the end of the 261st Corps Commanders’ Confe­rence, led by Army Chief Gen Asim Munir at the General Headquarters in Rawal­pindi.

“The Forum noted that requisite and necessary support will also be exten­ded to Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP) for forthcoming general elections,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement.

The move came in response to the ECP’s request earlier this month for civil and military security personnel, addressing the significant shortfall of over 277,000 personnel needed for a safe electoral process.

The ISPR, however, did not specify the number of troops to be deployed.

In the 2018 elections, the army deployed 371,388 troops at 85,000 polling stations, the largest in the country’s history. In comparison, the 1997 polls saw 192,000 soldiers deployed at 35,000 polling stations.

In 2018, two soldiers were deployed inside the polling stations, while another two guarded outside the polling stations designated as sensitive.

Besides guarding polling stations, the troops guard the three printing presses where ballot papers and other election stationery are printed. Soldiers also provide security during the transportation of election material to returning officers and subsequently to the polling station and back.

The deployment announcement in 2018 had come with an assurance that troops would abide by the ECP code of conduct and remain neutral during the voting process.

Former caretaker interior minister Sarfraz Bugti had on Dec 8 indicated the availability of civilian security personnel, but did not commit troops, a decision that falls within the purview of the defence ministry. Operational commitments of paramilitary forces like the Rangers in Sindh and the Frontier Corps in Balochistan, both heavily involved in counterterrorism operations, were also noted.

The announcement marks a shift from the military’s position in February, where it declined to provide troops for by-elections, citing internal security challenges and involvement in the national census.

Additionally, the corps commanders pledged support to government institutions and law enforcement agencies in combating smuggling, money laundering, power theft, and hoarding of essential items.

During the conference, commanders discussed national security challenges and strategies, focusing on the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in Afghanistan. Concerns about the TTP’s access to US military equipment left in Afghanistan were recently raised by caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, but were countered by US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby. Mr Kirby clarified that the equipment was abandoned by the Afghan forces, not the US.

The commanders resolved to use the state’s full might against terrorists destabilising Pakistan.

The army’s commitment to the Feb 8 polls reflects its role in ensuring national security during the crucial democratic process.

The conference reiterated its support for the ongoing efforts to promote socio-economic growth and encourage foreign investment under the umbrella of the Special Investment Facilitation Council, adds APP.

The forum expressed serious concern over continued repression and reprehensible human rights violations by Indian forces in India-held Kashmir. The recent acts of abduction, torture and killing of civilians by the Indian army were unequivocally condemned by the participants.

The forum expressed solidarity with the people of Palestine and condemned serious human rights violations and war crimes being perpetrated by Israel in Gaza. It reiterated the government’s stance of demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and a peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict.

Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2023

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