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70,000 troops to protect poll process

May 03, 2013

ISLAMABAD, May 2: Around 70,000 troops will be deployed across the country to perform security duties till the completion of the electoral process.

Addressing a media briefing here on Thursday about the security plan prepared by the army, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa said deployment in Balochistan had almost been completed while the process in Sindh would begin on Friday.

He said movement of troops for deployment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had begun and the movement for Punjab would also begin on Friday.

Personnel of the civil armed forces will be deployed at polling stations and the army will act as a quick response force on a need basis.

This was the first official word from the army ruling out the presence of its troops at polling stations.

Maj Gen Bajwa said airborne quick response force would also be in place and around 50 army helicopters would be dedicated to election security.

Asked if the army was ready to carry out any operation terrorist havens in Karachi before the polls, he said targeted operation by Rangers and police was already going on in the city.

“The army will take any action required to bolster election security,” he said.

He said the troops had been called out in aid of civil power under Article 245 of the constitution.

When asked if the troops on election duties would act on the command of the civil administration or seek instructions from their superiors in the military, he said the army’s role was to reinforce the security plan and all steps would be taken in accordance with the constitution.

The ISPR chief said the deployment plan had been prepared after assessment of threats while keeping in view intelligence reports.

He said the plan could be modified on the basis of subsequent intelligence tips.

He said the army already had a presence in most parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and a comprehensive security plan had been prepared to ensure peaceful elections there.

The army had been deployed in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad for security of the presses, where printing of ballot papers had begun on April 19.

The military’s spokesman said the security cover of the army would remain available for safe transportation to the provinces and from the air bases to the district returning officers (DROs) and polling stations. Both the air and land routes will be used for the purpose.

Answering a question, he said the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), and not the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency would monitor the polls.

In reply to another question, he said the Foreign Office should be asked whether the decision to seal the Afghan border on the election day had been discussed with the International Security Assistance Force.

MEETING: Caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso presided over a meeting on law and order during the elections. The ministers for interior and information, secretaries for interior and law and director general of the Intelligence Bureau attended the meeting.

Briefing reporters, Information Minister Arif Nizami confirmed that the Afghan border would be sealed and surveillance in areas along it enhanced on the polling day.

The Afghan refugees have been asked to keep their movement restricted to their camps.

He said the prime minister had ordered that the CNG stations throughout the country should remain open on the polling day and there should be no loadshedding from May 10 to 12.

Mr Nizami said security would be enhanced manifold two days before the polls and aerial surveillance would also be carried out to review the situation.

CRISIS CELL: Meanwhile, the ECP has refused to take control of the National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC).

The commission held a meeting on Thursday and observed it was now well-settled that the maintenance of law and order was exclusively the responsibility of the provincial governments. It noted that all executive authorities in the federation and the provinces were under an obligation to provide assistance to the ECP, including provision of adequate security at the polling stations.

It said maintenance of law and order and provision of security during elections was the responsibility of the executive and it could not be entrusted to the ECP.

AFP adds: The commission had set up more than 73,000 polling stations, with 20,000 earmarked as “sensitive or most sensitive”, ECP spokesman Khurshid Alam said.

He said the number of “sensitive” locations could be increased.

Five security personnel would be stationed at each polling station and seven to 10 at sensitive and most sensitive ones, he said.