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Troop deployment at sensitive poll stations

January 03, 2013

ISLAMABAD, Jan 2: A special meeting held at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday to discuss security-related issues for general elections came to the conclusion that the army would be deployed at sensitive polling stations only.

The ECP in principle decided to allow candidates to bring along armed private security guards to polling stations.

The meeting was presided over by Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim and attended by the federal secretaries for defence, foreign affairs, establishment and states and frontier regions, the additional interior secretary, provincial chief secretaries and IGs of provinces.

A participant quoted Defence Secretary Lt-Gen (retd) Asif Yasin Malik as saying it was not possible to provide army personnel for each of around 80,000 polling stations.

In an apparent reaction to the CEC’s statements calling for deployment of army at all the polling stations, he said 200,000 army personnel could not be spared for this purpose.

The secretary said two soldiers would be needed for every polling station as there would be at least two polling booths at each station. Besides, additional staff will be required for logistic and command arrangements.

He pointed out that the army was already engaged in defending the borders, besides deployment in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and providing security to the staff of some multinational companies.

However, a dissatisfied ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan insisted that security at polling stations was more important than providing security to the multinationals who had resources to hire private security.

Later briefing reporters, Mr Khan said the defence secretary had assured the meeting that the army would extend maximum cooperation to the ECP and deploy personnel at sensitive polling stations.

Sources told Dawn that the suggestion about allowing guards for candidates was floated by Punjab Chief Secretary Nasir Mehmood Khosa and endorsed by other participants. They proposed that the number of guards for a candidate should be restricted to five, the permission should be subject to security clearance of the guards and that they must be in uniform.

The ECP secretary said the meting had decided to ban issuance of licences of weapons and issued directives to the authorities in this regard.

It was decided to withhold action on the applications for arms already submitted till the completion of the electoral process.

Giving details of the other major decisions, Mr Khan said orders would be issued by the competent authorities to restrict the movement of Afghan refugees two weeks before the polling day.

The meeting decided to allow international observers to visit Pakistan only for one week to monitor the elections. They will be required to follow the code of conduct prepared for them.

Due to security concerns, it was decided that the observers would not be allowed to come in hundreds and their number must be well-defined.

A committee, headed by Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jillani, was formed to work out details.

It was decided that elections would be held throughout the country, including Fata and Balochistan.

The ECP will decide in a couple of days whether camps for internally displaced persons can be declared constituencies.

The meeting decided that the provincial governments would install close circuit TV cameras at sensitive polling stations.

It discussed a proposal about prohibiting public meetings in open places and processions during election campaign because of law and order situation. The suggestion will be discussed with the Senate’s special committee on electoral issues.

The ECP directed the interior ministry to withdraw over 250 platoons of Frontier Constabulary engaged in different tasks and send them back to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) to man the border between settled districts of the province and Fata. The FC has been formed for deployment at the border.

The issue was raised by KP Chief Secretary Ghulam Dastgir who, according to sources, said the spillover (of militants) from Fata was affecting other parts of the country, including Karachi.