Elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: Propaganda against Pakistan’s Armed Forces
By Sajjad Shaukat
An anti-state article under the caption Wither ECP?, written by Farhatullah Babar, published in the Weekly Friday Times on June 28, 2019 left no stone unturned in maligning the Pakistan’s Armed Forces.
Farhatullah Babar wrote: “On June 19, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) issued an unprecedented notification saying, Pakistan’s armed forces shall assist Election Commission of Pakistan and make necessary security arrangements for conduct of elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly in the new districts of the province scheduled to be held on July 20, 2019…The armed forces had two distinct functions: the first, to assist the commission and second, to make its own security arrangements as it deemed fit independent of the commission itself…This notification was issued without consultation with political parties and the ECP also quietly abdicated all its constitutional responsibilities…The troops will set up mobile teams in all 16 constituencies and officers, including junior commissioned officers, shall exercise powers of magistrate First Class to try offences in a summary manner…the stage has thus been set to allow the armed forces do whatever they want before polling, on voting day and during the vote count, without any oversight of the Parliament, the courts and even the ECP itself.”
Farhatullah Babar must know that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by former cricket star Imran Khan got victory in Pakistan’s general elections, held on July 25, 2018. It was due to the personals of the Pakistan Army who were deputed inside and outside the polling booths that free and fair elections became possible in a peaceful atmosphere.
But, it is regrettable that the All Parties Conference (APC) which included the PML-N and the PPP, smaller political groups, including the Awami National Party (ANP), the MMA, the National Party, Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) in its second meeting, held on August 2, 2018 had denounced the parliamentary elections as sham and unfair.
Raising allegations of rigging in the elections, PPP leader Senator Sherry Rehman stated, “We have agreed to stages protests in the assembly and outside”.
APC formed a 16-member committee to come up with a future course of action. The action committee of the APC had agreed to protest outside the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on August 8, 2018.
In this respect, brushing aside the speculations that the army is behind any political engineering ahead of the elections, Director General of Pakistan Army’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Maj-Gen. Asif Ghafoor stated on June 4, 2018: “All allegations about the security establishment’s alleged involvement in politics are proving wrong, the army cautioned against dragging the institution into politics ahead of parliamentary elections…The army is happy that the government has completed its five-year term…First there were speculations that the Senate elections might not take place, and then there were rumours that the government would not complete its term and even there was talk of delay in the elections. With time every allegation against the army proved wrong…This is an election year and a year of change so lots of these statements should be seen in that context…The army must not be dragged into political issues…It is the prerogative of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)…the army will extend its support when and where it will be requisitioned for election duties in line with its constitutional role”.
Similarly, on July 10, last year, Maj-Gen. Asif Ghafoor said: “The armed forces will only support the electoral process and have no direct role in conduct of elections”. He invited people to come out and vote for “whatever leader, and whatever party they like”.
Terming the third democratic transfer of power in Pakistan a continuity of the democratic process, Maj-Gen. Asif Ghafoor elaborated: “The armed forces will only support the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in its duties according to the code of conduct provided by the commission itself…this was not the first time that the forces were being deployed for election duty…in 1997, 192,000 troops had been delegated on duty to oversee 25,000 polling stations…Then, in 2002, the army deployed less than 35,000 troops for 64,470 polling stations because the ECP only tasked the Army with overall security. Likewise, in 2008, 39,000 troops were deployed even though the number of polling stations was much higher (64,100) because the troops were, again, only in charge of overall security”.
He added: “The 2013 elections had been difficult security-wise because of the ongoing war against militancy. Many politicians had received death threats and an Awami National Party (ANP) leader had even been killed. To counter the prevailing insecurity, 75,000 troops had been deployed for 70,185 polling stations”.
Maj-Gen. Ghafoor explained regarding the elections 2018, that this time “the ECP has entrusted the Army with six tasks: Maintenance of overall security in the country-Provision of security to printing presses-Transportation of the material before election day-Transportation of material from RO office to polling stations as well as security of polling staff on polling day-Deployment on polling day inside and outside polling stations-Securely transporting election material and polling staff back to Election Commission offices”.
He clarified that the “army will not take over any printing material during the entire process and that the ECP will have its officers present at all times, who the soldiers will only provide security to. The counting of ballots is the ECP’s job”.
He further said: “on polling day, troops will be stationed both inside and outside the polling stations. Two security officials will be present inside and two outside 20,831 sensitive polling stations, while deployment will be lower at non-sensitive polling stations…The army has, with the ECP, set up an Army Election Support Centre which will ensure coordination with the commission…We have to help the ECP in a non-political, non-partisan manner…No unauthorised person would be allowed at the printing presses until the printing of election material is completed by July 21…The troops would accompany ECP officials during the transportation process only to protect material from falling into the hands of any unauthorised person…If you see any irregularity on election day, please make a note and bring it to our notice…Report it to the ECP and report to us”.
However, quite opposite to the foreign observers who recognized that elections 2018 were free and fair, these political parties wanted to create unrest in the country to save their leaders and top parties’ workers from corruption charges, as Supreme Court of Pakistan and NAB have accelerated the cases of corruption which have become urgent issue for every patriot citizens of Pakistan.
It is notable that the opposition parties had agreed to convene an All Parties Conference (APC) after Eid-ul-Fitr. They have agreed for launching a protest movement against the PTI government which has continued anti-corruption drive and documentation of the economy to pull Pakistan out of the multiple crises.
Despite differences, PML-N and the PPP, including some other parties seems determined to create unrest in the country through a protest movement. At this critical hour, Pakistan is facing multiple faceted crises of grave nature. But, in order to save their leaders from the cases of corruption, these political parties want to create political and economic instability in the country. They must know that any movement will further destablize the country and will benefit the external enemies of Pakistan, who want to weaken it, as it is the only nuclear country in the Islamic World.
Nevertheless, in light of the above mentioned facts, we can conclude that the article of Farhatullah Babar is part of the propaganda campaign against Pakistan, which will, intentionally, give advantage to the foreign entities of the country.