'Army will not be available for election duty,' defence ministry tells ECP

Security of the borders and the country is army’s “first priority,” says defence ministry

Nausheen Yusuf
Pakistan Army troops can be seen in a military vehicle during reconnaissance at most sensitive constituencies ahead of the Punjab by-polls, on July 16, 2022, in this still taken from a video. — ISPR
Pakistan Army troops can be seen in a military vehicle during reconnaissance at most sensitive constituencies ahead of the Punjab by-polls, on July 16, 2022, in this still taken from a video. — ISPR

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Defence on Tuesday informed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that the Pakistan Army will not be available for election duty this year due to the “situation in the country”, noting that the security of the borders and the country was the army’s “first priority”.

During the ECP’s third session regarding the elections of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assemblies — chaired by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja — Defence Secretary Lt General (retd) Hamood Uz Zaman Khan and Additional Defence Secretary Major General Khurram Sarfaraz Khan briefed the commission about the current situation of the country, a press release issued by the ECP said.

Pakistan has been witnessing a sharp rise in terror incidents for the last few months, which have taken the lives of several people, and as a result, the security forces have upped the ante against militants across the country.

The officials of the defence ministry apprised the participants of the session about the situation on the borders and the deployment of the army in the country, along with the overall law-and-order situation.

“The army attaches importance to its primary duties, and the security of the borders and the country is its first priority. Due to the current situation in the country, the Pakistan Army is not available for election duty at this time," the ministry's officials said.

“Moreover, the current economic situation of the country has an effect on the army as well. And it will be the decision of the ruling administration whether it restricts the army to the performance of primary duties or assigns secondary duties to it — ie election duty.”

They also clarified that if the army is assigned election duty, troops would be deployed in quick response (QRF) mode and static deployment of troops would not be possible.

It should be noted that on the orders of the Supreme Court, the polls for the Punjab Assembly elections will be held on April 30. Apart from this, the election schedule has also been announced and nomination papers are being submitted.

KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali has also announced May 28 as the date for elections in the province following a meeting with the ECP and President Dr Arif Alvi. 

The previous meetings

A total of three important meetings of the ECP were held, which were attended by members of the commission, the ECP secretary, and other senior officers.

In the first meeting, the Punjab Chief Secretary Zahid Akhtar Zaman and Punjab Inspector-General Usman Anwar briefed participants on the general election of the Punjab Assembly, the law-and-order situation in the province, and other problems of the province, including security concerns and economic problems.

Punjab IG said: “The deployment of police is not only limited to the day of elections, but their duties include ensuring the security of people and prevention of crimes. Police will be deployed to protect mosques and worshipers during the month of Ramadan.”

“3,330 political meetings and campaign events were held during the 2018 elections. There will be more during these elections, so it is very difficult to provide security keeping in mind the current law and order situation.”

Anwar added that police action has started against the criminals in the area of Kutch, and it this exercise would take four to five months.

Meanwhile, Zaman said that 40,000 teachers are currently on census duty and the same teachers would give duty in the matriculation exams. Moreover, during this time, the staff is also needed for purchasing wheat.

Zaman and Anwar maintained that considering the current overall economy and law and order situation of the country, fool-proof security cannot be provided in the April 30 election until other law enforcers, including the Pakistan Army, are deployed to assist the police.

"The aim is not only to conduct elections but to conduct clean and transparent elections. It is not possible to hold elections in these circumstances, especially if scattered elections are held — with provincial elections being held in April and then National Assembly elections," Zaman said.

In the second meeting of the ECP, the KP governor informed the commission in detail about the law and order situation in KP and the problems of the merged districts (FATA).