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Terrorism is the only worry, says Sethi

March 30, 2013

Chief Minister Punjab Najam Sethi talking to the media persons at Punjab House. — Online Photo by Mohammad Asim

ISLAMABAD: “Terrorism is my only worry which can disturb smooth run-up to the general elections,” Punjab’s caretaker Chief Minister Najam Sethi said on Friday, adding that otherwise things were very much under control.

“In the complete absence of counter-terrorism force, my only worry at the moment is how to protect politicians and their election rallies from terrorists who have already threatened to strike with full force. The very thought gives me sleepless nights,” said Mr Sethi while talking to media personnel at the Punjab House.

It’s very unfortunate, Mr Sethi underscored, that despite suffering from the menace of terrorism for such a long time, the country had not built up an effective counter-terrorism strategy, neither at the national nor at the provincial level.

“In Punjab, I have one police officer of the rank of DIG who heads the provincial counter-terrorism department, and his job is only to pass on terrorism threats with absolutely no clue how to confront them. This is a serious issue,” said the caretaker chief minister.

He said terrorists needed only five to six individuals willing to die to create panic, but to stop them the country required a fully trained manpower force.

In reply to a question, the caretaker chief minister said intelligence reports about threats from terrorists were serious.

However, he added, the provincial government would take every possible measure to keep the law and order under control and his focus was putting up the best security team.

In reply to a question about outlawed sectarian groups like Sipah-i-Sahaba, Mr Sethi said over 100 people of such organisations were arrested by the previous government, but they had all been released on bails.He said he would soon meet the chief justice of the Lahore High Court and discuss with him measures for strengthening the provincial prosecution department.

When a questioner suggested him to use his time in power to declare an all-out war against militants presently entrenched in south Punjab, Mr Sethi, with his trademark smile, retorted: “Do you really think the Punjab government has enough law enforcers and the intelligence set-up to fight them,” implying that the problem was too big to be handled by a civilian government.

Mr Sethi rejected the possibility of the postponement of elections, saying elections would be held on time. However, he added, in case of delay, he would be the first person to quit. “I want to put this on record that if elections for whatever reason are delayed, I will not carry on beyond May 11 as caretaker chief minister.”

He said he had accepted this position only because it was the first time in the history of the country that every step was being taken according to the constitution.

Mr Sethi said he would have turned down the offer of becoming the caretaker chief minister if the government and the opposition parties had not agreed upon his name.

He agreed with a questioner that holding of free and fair elections by following all guidelines of the ECP was a big challenge because there was no trained manpower available. For example, he said, it would be very difficult to stop candidates and their supporters from using vehicles to bring voters to polling stations.