Uncertainty hangs over polls as army shows unavailability

ISLAMABAD: Two weeks after Supreme Court ruled in favour of holding the general elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the defence authorities conveyed to the electoral body on Tuesday that Pakistan Army was not “available” to perform election duty in the general polls in the two provinces.

In a meeting presided over by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, Secretary Defence Lieutenant General Hamood Uz Zaman Khan (retd) and Additional Secretary Defence Major General Khurram Sarfraz Khan said that the military was not available for election duties in the existing circumstances.

A press release issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) after this meeting quoted the two defence officials as briefing the electoral body that “military gives utmost importance to its primary responsibilities which include the protection of borders and country as foremost priorities.”

“Due to prevailing situation, Pakistan Army is not available for election duties,” the ECP press release said.

The statement added that it would be the decision of the sitting government—whether it wanted to “restrict the army to its primary duties or want to engage it in secondary responsibilities like election duty.”

The defence authorities also conveyed that if Pakistan Army was engaged in election duty, it would only perform duty as Quick Response Force (QRF) and not be engaged in the static mode.

In another meeting, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Punjab Usman Anwar briefed the commission that it was “extremely difficult” to provide foolproof security during general elections in Punjab due to police’s engagements in upcoming month of Ramzan –and ongoing population census.

The IGP said that police operation was launched against miscreants in Katcha area in south Punjab that would take “four to five months” to complete. He proposed that police would be in “better position” to provide security if elections were held after the operation.

Chief Secretary Punjab Zahid Akhtar Zaman told the meeting that provision of foolproof security for general elections in Punjab was not possible unless Pakistan Army and other organisations were engaged.

It merits mentioning here that the Supreme Court, in its suo moto notice over delay in holding general elections in Punjab and KP, ruled on March 1 that the president fix the date for Punjab general polls and governor KP fix the general polls for KP—both in consultation with the ECP.—SARDAR SIKANDER SHAHEEN