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Teachers refuse to perform poll duty

April 28, 2013

QUETTA, April 27: The seeming indifference of the state to challengers of its writ in Balochistan has thrown up an unforeseen snag in polling arrangements — thousands of schoolteachers have refused to perform election duty in 11 districts because of threats from outlawed militant groups. The provincial government has already declared these districts “sensitive” vis-à-vis the May 11 elections.

The 11 districts in question are Nushki, Chagai, Mastung, Kalat, Khuzdar, Awaran, Kharan, Washuk, Panjgur, Kech and Gwadar.

Mohammad Qasim, general secretary of the Government Teachers Association (GTA), said on Saturday that 18,461 teachers, including women, were working in government schools in the 11 districts.

“Government schoolteachers have always extended all possible help and cooperation to the Balochistan government for holding census, house enumeration and anti-polio campaigns. “However, because of serious threats hurled by militant organisations, they are not ready to perform their duties at the polling stations,” the teachers’ representative said.

The association has sent a letter to the Election Commission, the chief minister and the chief secretary of Balochistan to apprise them about the teachers’ agony and helplessness. However, the association said its members would carry out their election duties in the other 19 districts of the province. “Since the situation is normal in the remaining 19 districts, teachers have no hesitation in doing election duty,” Mr Qasim said.

“The government should, however, ensure safety of teachers’ lives in the districts where they are ready to do their job.”

Around 50,000 teachers work in schools throughout the province.

The provincial government has decided to hold negotiations with teachers’ associations to resolve the matter.

“The education secretary will hold talks with leaders of different teachers’ associations,” Home Secretary Akbar Durrani told Dawn on Saturday.

He said the government had made alternative arrangements for holding elections in the province. “We have an alternative set of government employees who will perform election duties.

“The government has made security arrangements for polling stations and staff. The Frontier Corps will be deployed at polling stations and police, Levies, Balochistan reserve police and other security forces will also be available in all sensitive districts as well as at other places,” Mr Durrani said.

Over the past fortnight, militant outfits have repeatedly threatened to attack offices of political parties and polling stations in the province in order to subvert the general elections. And they have been true to their word on more than one occasion. In the deadliest episode, the PML-N’s Balochistan chief lost his son, brother and nephew when his election convoy came under a bomb attack in Khuzdar on April 16. Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, however, had a narrow escape. The banned Baloch Liberation Army claimed it had carried out the audacious strike.

On April 21, two activists of the Awami National Party lost their lives when gunmen opened fire during a public meeting in Pishin. The same day saw an attack on the house of National Party chief Dr Malik Baloch in Turbat, but fortunately there were no casualties.

The Baloch Republican Army claimed carrying out the two attacks.