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Minister rules out troops at polling stations

April 05, 2013

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Federal Minister for Interior, Malik Muhammad Habib Khan addresses to media persons during press conference at Ministry of Interior in Islamabad. — Photo by PPI

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Interior Minister Malik Mohammad Habib Khan on Thursday rejected the proposed deployment of army troops at polling stations on the election day.

Addressing his maiden press conference, the minister said army troops would be kept in the reserve at district headquarters and would be called as a ‘quick response force’ when police and paramilitary forces, such as Rangers, Frontier Corps, Frontier Constabulary, Pakistan Coast Guards and Gilgit Baltistan Scouts, fail to control law and order.

Habib Khan was accompanied by Secretary Interior Khawaja Siddiq Akbar and Additional Secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Mohammad Afzal Khan.

Terming the deployment of army troops a sensitive issue, he said a single incident with armymen at polling stations would be against the prestige of armed forces. “This is what I believe. If the ECP can convince me otherwise we will be ready to consider their viewpoint.” He, however, said the ECP could make a recommendation and the final decision would be taken by the executive authority.

In the same breath, the minister said all directives of the ECP would be honoured. There were complete cohesion and understanding among all players, he added.

The ECP has reportedly stated that army troops would be deployed at all polling stations in Karachi and sensitive polling stations across the country. Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim went one step further by seeking deployment of one armyman inside each polling station.

The interior minister’s authoritative statement left many to wonder how the interior ministry could reverse a decision of the ECP and accepted by the Army. Though the deployment of army troops had been sought through the defence ministry, top officials of the ECP and the General Headquarters held a number of follow-up meetings to discuss deployment of troops at polling stations. Habib Khan disclosed that the government had approved his proposals about the transfer of director generals of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Passports and Immigration, Inspector General Police (IGP) Islamabad and national coordinator of National Counter-Terrorism Authority.

He said new officers of sound integrity and professional competence were being posted to ensure good governance.

He said he had issued directives to solve the problem of delay in the issuance of passports and to take action against the officials who were responsible for the delay.

The minister said there would be zero tolerance for the display of arms. He said he was surprised by vehicles with tinted glasses plying on roads, adding that the government would protect policemen who would act against violators of the law. All those who break the law would be dealt with strictly irrespective of their political affiliation, he added.

The minister surprised many by saying that he would work efficiently ‘over the next three years’. However, he was prompt to clarify that it was a slip of tongue and he meant ‘three months’.

Answering a question, Habib Khan said all possible steps would be taken to minimise the number of terrorist attacks and that foolproof security would be provided to political leaders.

He said he would soon visit Quetta and meet the caretaker chief minister and officials to discuss security requirements.

Malik Habib, who is considered the architect of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) network in Balochistan, said intelligence reports needed to be specific.