Holding polls in Punjab ‘difficult task’ until operation against militants is over, IG tells ECP

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ISLAMABAD, FEB 8: Punjab Inspector Gen­eral (IG) Dr Usman Anwar informed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday that it would be a “difficult task” to hold elections in the province until a police operation against militants, expected to be completed in four to five months, was over.

Last week, the Punjab police had launched a grand counterterrorism operat­ion in the highly complex and inac­cessible hilly areas of Mian­wali district, hours after some heavily equipped militants of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakis­tan (TTP) attacked a police station in the area in the dead of the night.

It is pertinent to mention that the Punjab police chief’s remarks come a day after Khyber Pakhtunkhwa IG Moazzam Jah Ansari informed the electoral watchdog that terrorism during the upcoming provincial polls and by-elections for the National Assembly could not be ruled out.

The handout issued by the ECP today said that a meeting was convened to give a briefing on the Punjab elections and the upcoming by-NA elections.

During the meeting, the Punjab IG said that a police operation was under way in some districts and in South Punjab’s riverine areas which would be completed in four to five months. He said it would be a “difficult task” to hold the provincial assembly elections till the operation was completed.

He also highlighted that terrorism was on the rise in the province, adding that 213 attempted attacks had been thwarted since December on the basis of intelligence reports.

IG Anwar said there were reports of terrorist incidents in “almost all Punjab districts”. He highlighted that Lahore, Sheikhupura, Sahiwal, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan districts were among the top “hotspots” for terrorist activity.

He said that there were various terrorist groups in Bhakkar, Mianwali and Dera Ghazi Khan, adding that a major terrorist operation was recently prevented in Lahore Police Lines and Mianwali.

IG Anwar said that 412,854 police personnel were required to ensure peaceful elections in the province while the force comprised only 115,000 officials. He said 300,000 additional officials would be needed to ensure peaceful polls.

The IG said that the services of the Pakistan Army and Rangers would be required to compensate for this shortcoming, while stressing the need for their static deployment.

During the meeting, Punjab Chief Secretary Abdullah Khan Sumbal also pointed out that there was a “serious terrorism threat” in the province.

He assured the meeting that transparency would be ensured in the upcoming polls. Sumbal said that the provincial government had initiated work regarding the NA by-elections, preparation of a security plan and installation of CCTV cameras in all sensitive polling stations.

He added that a control room would also be established in each district during the elections. He suggested that the ECP carry out NA by-elections and the Punjab Assembly polls on the same day.

He explained that if this was not done, the expenses would double. He further said that in such a scenario, law enforcement agencies would also not be able to provide foolproof security.

The electoral watchdog appreciated the input from the two officials and said that it was aware of the provincial government’s problems. However, the ECP highlighted that conducting polls was its constitutional and legal responsibility and it would utilise all resources in this regard.

“The Election Commission will hold its own separate meeting in which the decision [on holding elections] will be taken keeping in mind the security of the people and the peaceful conduct of the election,” the statement said.

Alvi asks ECP to ‘immediately announce’ election date for KP, Punjab

Earlier today, President Arif Alvi urged the ECP to “immediately announce” the date for polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab and put an end to “dangerous speculative propaganda” on both the provincial assembly and general elections.

In a letter addressed to Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja today, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, Alvi said that the election of an assembly is to be held within 90 days of the dissolution as provided by Article 224(2) of the Constitution.

The president conveyed that it was ultimately the commission, which if it failed to discharge its functions and duties, was to be held responsible and answerable for the violation of the Constitution of the country.

The letter came a day after the ruling coalition insisted that the country could not afford separate polls, confirming its intention that elections in Punjab and KP within 90 days were not going to happen.