The army has no direct role in conducting the election and nothing can be more heartening than the fact that the Pakistani nation and all the political parties in the country have been involved in taking forward this democratic process, said the director-general of the ISPR, the army spokesperson, Major General Asif Ghafoor.
“Conducting the election is the job of the Election Commission. As per the mandate, we will only support them,” he said. He was speaking at a press conference on Monday about the elections being held on July 25. “I was asked in every press conference whether the elections will happen or not,” he said. “You have seen all such apprehensions go down with time.”
He was holding the press conference to lay out what the role of the armed forces would be on July 25. He said it was to assist the Election Commission. “We have to support them in all the tasks for which they have sought help,” he said.
This is not the first time that the armed forces have been deployed in the election process. The armed forces have previously carried out this duty on the orders of the Election Commission. The Election Commission has tasked the armed forces to assist them in the 2018 election as well. “The aim is to conduct the election in a free, fair and transparent manner. We would implement the ECP’s code of conduct.” He said that 375,000 troops are being trained for election duties. It will be ensured that no interference is made in the election process and polling stations have been categorized into ‘Sensitive’ and ‘Normal’. At sensitive polling stations, two soldiers will be inside and two on the outside. The Army personnel will be deployed three days before the election. On normal polling stations, the number of soldiers deputed can be reduced.
Representatives of the armed forces were there for assistance and security. Reserve troops will also be utilized for election duties. “Soldiers have informed who can come in the station,” he said. Soldiers stationed inside the polling stations will be primarily responsible for ensuring that there are no obstacles to transparent, free and fair elections. Only voters, polling staff, candidates and their political agent, and ECP-verified people (such as card-holding journalists or observer) can enter the polling stations. “The jawan deployed inside will be responsible for ensuring that no irrelevant person enters the polling station.”
The police will majorly be responsible for maintaining order outside the polling stations. No one will be allowed to harass voters, snatch their CNICs. “The jawan will inform their senior as well as the ECP about any such misbehaviour,” he said. “I request the media to understand that the jawan is there on duty. Please refrain from asking him questions of different kinds. The ISPR representatives will be there in every city and we will provide you the phone number of our helpline.”
Foreign observers will be given free access in line with the cards issued to them. If they see any discrepancy, they should also inform the relevant authorities.
This time around, transport of the printed material is the army’s responsibility. “However, we will not take printed material in our custody,” he said, referring to the ballot papers.
“We would keep an eye that the number of votes counted should be forwarded as is,” he said. “Most importantly, we must ensure that if 100 votes are put in a ballot box, they should remain one hundred. They should not be 99 or 101.”
“We are setting up helplines, and ISPR representatives will be available on those helplines. If you see any discrepancies, any attempt of rigging, please report it to the ECP.”
Nobody should be able to use pressure tactics. What does a free, fair and transparent environment mean? “It is to ensure that the political activity of all parties is free of any fears of, for example, any possibility of terror attacks and intimidation. It also means providing the freedom to hold rallies and security on polling day.”
Ensuring all of this is the job of the ECP. The armed forces, in line with the ECP code of conduct, will facilitate them to ensure that the elections happen in line with the given mandate.
If an armed forces representative witnesses any kind of discrepancy, they will indicate it to the Election Commission, he said.
The armed forces have no authority to intervene and fix the said discrepancy. It will be the ECP’s responsibility to fix it.
The army will also see to the security of the printing presses during the printing of ballot papers. There are three printing presses: two in Islamabad and one in Karachi.
The first phase is that of printing, which must conclude a week before the Election Day. “We sent our forces on June 7 to all three printing presses.”
Transporting the ballot papers and relevant election material to the polling stations will be the army’s responsibility. “We will only be responsible for the transfer. The ECP staff will be responsible for handling this material. Wherever the vehicles go, it will be in their custody.”
Counting the papers is also the ECP’s responsibility. “Our job is only transporting the material in a safe manner,” he said. “Our job is to provide security to the staff as well.” Transporting the ballot boxes to the ECP’s strong room after the polling is also the army’s job as tasked by the ECP.
The voter should be able to exercise their right to franchise without any pressure. The more people who come out to vote, the more transparent the elections will be. “There hasn’t been a single election in the history of Pakistan, when politicians have not made accusations of interference, or when candidates have not switched loyalties,” he said.
The Army does not come on TV to present its views, he added. An army election support centre has been set up in Rawalpindi under a serving three-star general. This centre will coordinate with the ECP. “We have had correspondence with the ECP. Most importantly, the ECP has come up with a code of conduct for the armed forces this time,” he said. “We are bound to implement that code of conduct.”
History of army deployment
The ECP numbers say that we have 106 million voters or 109.5 million voters, to be specific. “This [means] the highest number of polling stations in the history of the country:
– 48,500 buildings are being used for these polling stations
– 371,388 troops are required
“It was not possible to get so many soldiers given the situation on our borders,” he said.
Therefore, we are training and using the services of the civil armed forces and officers who recently retired in the last five years or so as well. And the Pakistan Navy and PAF troops will also be on duty (around 4,000 each). In total, 371,388 troops will be on duty.
In 1997, 192,000 troops were deployed at 35,000 polling stations, he said, sharing some overhead Powerpoint slides. Troops were responsible for security outside and inside the polling stations.
In 2002, there were 64,470 polling stations. But the army deployment was lower this time at 30,500, he said. “This was because the task given by the Election Commission was that of overall security alone.”
In 2008, there were 64,176 polling stations and only 39,000 troops were deployed. “The security is this election was also quick action-based.”
The 2013 elections were relatively difficult because, as you know, the war on terror was happening, he said. “Our forces were busy in the operations. The security situation was abysmal. Many political parties faced threats. One ANP leader was also killed. There were 70,185 polling stations, for which 75,000 troops were sent on election duty exclusively.”
Thankfully, he added, Pakistan is heading towards the polls once again. “Insha Allah [God willing], the people will exercise their democratic right once again on July 25.”
“If you disregard the 2002 election since it happened during the tenure of a president in uniform, this will be the third election carrying forward the democratic process in the country.”
ISI-Multan case allegation
Responding to allegations that the PML-N candidate in Multan, Iqbal Siraj, was threatened and harassed by the ISI, Maj-Gen Ghafoor said the spy agency was not involved in any way in this incident. The ISI did not raid Iqbal Siraj’s godown.
“We have no reservation regarding any candidate being elected PM,” said Maj Gen Ghafoor, while responding to questions about Imran Khan not being acceptable to the army.
This is a developing story…