• Commission said to be mulling delayed elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan
• Polls on NA-8, PK-22 in Bajaur put off after candidate’s murder
• Fatal assault, blasts, attacks on offices mar campaigning in Balochistan
• Army brass declares zero tolerance for violence

ISLAMABAD / BAJAUR / QUETTA: The Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP) has convened a high-level meeting today (Thursday) to discuss the deteriorating law and order situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balo­chistan in the lead-up to the Feb 8 elections, sparking fears that polls in the two provinces might be put off.

Separately, the military leadership has declared a zero-tolerance policy against political violence and vowed that no one would be allowed to sabotage elections.

The developments came after days of rising tensions and escalating violence, including the killing of an election candidate in Bajaur — leading to the postponement of elections in two constituencies of the district — and the death of another political worker in Chaman on Wednesday.

Several armed and grenade attacks were also reported in Balochistan, including one targeting the home of Zahoor Ahmed Buledi, a former provincial minister and PPP candidate for provincial assembly from Kech district.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the ECP said, “Keeping in view the deteriorating law and order situation, the ECP has convened a meeting on Thursday where Interior Minister, Secretary Interior, Chief Sec­retaries and Inspectors General of KP and Balochistan and representatives of intelligence agencies have been invited.”

In a separate statement, an ECP spokesman said the commission has also taken notice of a firing incident on a political party’s caravan, resulting in the killing of one person, and a grenade attack outside the house of Mr Buledi, a candidate from PB-25 in Kech district.

Though the ECP earlier dismissed the calls for putting off general elections over security concerns, many believe that the watchdog was setting the scene to postpone polls in KP and Balochistan.

A senior ECP official told Dawn the commission was disturbed over a surge in terrorist incidents. However, he said the provincial governments were responsible for the law and order situation, and the purpose of convening the meeting was to ask them to tighten security.

“As for now, no provincial government has sought to delay elections,” he said but insisted that polls could be put off in some constituencies with high disturbance levels if the situation warranted.

Another official, however, said that anything was possible. “It all depends on the nature and magnitude of the threat,” he told Dawn on the condition of anonymity, adding that the situation would be clear after briefings by the top officials.

Meanwhile, the ECP also faces a critical challenge in the upcoming elections: securing enough special security paper for potential reprints of ballot papers in certain constituencies.

“If the security paper is not available, there will be no option but to postpone the elections in these constituencies,” the ECP noted in a meeting on Wednesday.

Corps commanders’ moot

Meanwhile, the military leadership on Wednesday firmly declared a zero-tolerance stance against any acts of political violence during the forthcoming national elections.

“No one would be allowed to indulge in violence in the name of political activity and sabotage the quintessential democratic exercise of conduct of free and fair elections,” a statement issued at the end of the corps commanders conference read.

The meeting was chaired by Chief of the Army Staff Gen Asim Munir and attended by corps commanders and principal staff officers posted at the General Headquarters. Discussion on the deployment of army troops for the upcoming elections was a major agenda point at the meeting.

The military’s statement came against a backdrop of rising tensions and the looming threat of unrest as the country gears up for elections. This heightened atmosphere has been further exacerbated by the legal and political hurdles confronting key stakeholders in the political arena, casting doubts over the integrity of the upcoming polls. Such challenges have significantly complicated the country’s political landscape, adding to the already charged environment.

The commanders vowed that the deployed troops would perform election duties “as per the constitutional mandate, under the guidelines of ECP”.

As for the relations with Iran after deadly cross-border strikes, the army chief explained rapid de-escalation with that country.

“Pakistan believes in peaceful co-existence with all states. However, there would never be any compromise over the country’s sovereignty, national honour and aspirations of Pakistani people,” he asserted. “Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacrosanct and inviolable,” he added.

The commanders were also briefed on the Indian campaign of “extra-territorial and extra-judicial killings” in Pakistan.

Polls on NA-8, PK-22 postponed

Elections in NA-8 and PK-22 constituencies of Bajaur district were postponed after the killing of independent candidate Rehan Zeb Khan and injuries to three workers when unknown assailants opened fire on them on Wednesday.

Mr Khan, a PTI dissident who was refused the party ticket, was contesting elections against a rival PTI ticket holder. He came under attack at about 2pm while campaigning along with a group of his supporters at the main chowk of Sadiqabad Bazaar in Khar tehsil.

The assailants opened fire on them using rifles, injuring Mr Khan and three others. They were rushed to the district headquarters (DHQ) hospital in Khar, but 32-year-old Mr Khan, who received multiple bullets in his head and leg, died of wounds at the hospital’s emergency department.

The SHO of Khar Police Station, Rasheed Khan, confirmed the incident. Israr Khan, another police official, told Dawn that the wounded workers were identified as Sultan Room, TalhaYousaf and Fazl Ameen.

DPO Kashif Zulfiqar told the media that the incident seemed to be a “targeted killing”.

Rehan Zeb Khan was contesting the election from NA-8, the only National Assembly seat in Bajaur, and PK-22 as an independent candidate and his main rivals were former PTI lawmakers Gul Zafar Khan (on NA-8) and Gul Dad Khan on (PK-22).

PTI workers, activists and local leaders from various political and religious parties strongly condemned Mr Khan’s killing and called for the early arrest of those involved in the attack.

KP caretaker Chief Minister Syed Arshad Hussain Shah also took notice of Mr Khan’s killing and ordered the provincial police chief to submit an inquiry report within two days.

Violence in Balochistan

In Balochistan, a leader of a political party was killed and eight other people, including political workers and two security officials, were injured in separate attacks at election offices and residences of the political party candidates on Wednesday.

Officials said that a local Awami National Party (ANP) leader, identified as Zahoor Ahmed, was killed when armed assailants opened fire at the election office of party candidate Engineer Zamrak Khan Piralizai in the Mazaiadha area of Chaman, a district bordering Afghanistan.

They said the incident happened after a dispute between two groups on the issue of hoisting party flags escalated. Mr Ahmed received multiple bullets and died on the spot, while another party worker, Moin, got injured in the firing, a senior Levies official said.

In another incident, unknown people attacked the residence of a former provincial minister and PPP candidate for provincial assembly from Kech district, Zahoor Ahmed Buledi, with a hand grenade in his native town of Buleda.

“Two grenades lobbed at the residence of Mr Buledi exploded in the courtyard of the house,” the police said, adding that no casualty was reported in the attack.

The banned group Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack.

In a statement, Mr Buledi condemned the attack and said that he and his family would not be afraid of such attacks.

Separately, five PPP workers were injured when unknown motorcyclists hurled a grenade at the election office of Mir Ali Madad Jattak, a former president of PPP’s Balochistan chapter, who is contesting on a provincial assembly seat, at Ghahi Chowk area of Sariab.

Mr Jattak, who was present in the election office, remained unhurt. The injured party workers were identified as Ghulam Ullah, Nasarullah, Muhammad Javed, Abdul Latif and Obaidullah.

In another incident, a Levies official was critically injured in Khuzdar when unidentified individuals attacked the Levies patrolling vehicle with hand grenades in the Khatan area of Khuzdar late evening.

Another explosion took place in front of the residence of PPP’s provincial assembly candidate Shakeel Durrani in Khuzdar. However, no casualty was reported in the incident.

A police constable was injured in a grenade attack on a police picket in the Josak area of Turbat town late in the evening.

In Sibi, a man lobbed a grenade at a police checkpoint, slightly damaging the post. However, no one was hurt in the attack.

Behram Baloch in Gwadar, and Abdul Wahid Shahwani in Khuzdar also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2024

To find your constituency and location of your polling booth, SMS your NIC number (no spaces) to 8300. Once you know your constituency, visit the ECP website here for candidates.



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