Situation not conducive to polls: KP governor

Mumtaz Alvi
Saturday, Mar 18, 2023

ISLAMABAD: After suggesting May 28 as the polling date for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly general election, Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Haji Ghulam Ali has now stressed to first deal with a number of challenges, confronting the province.

He has warned that due to the current upward trajectory of terrorism, the free movement of politicians and polling staff is not possible.

The governor also said that the province had a deficit of Rs 19bn and was indebted to the tune of Rs 1000 billion to the Asian Development Bank and World Bank while the security and administrative machinery was largely engaged in counter-terrorism and mainstreaming of the ex-FATA region. All of this, he said is heavily non-conducive to the holding of an election. He detailed these challenges in a letter sent to the Election Commission of Pakistan in response to its communication.

A meeting was also held at the Election Commission Friday under Chief Election Commission Sikandar Sultan Raja, wherein, the Chief Secretary Imdadullah Bosal and Inspector General Police Akhtar Hayat gave briefings and underlined that fool-proof security for the elections could not be provided.

In his letter, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Ghulam Ali said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has remained an epicentre of terrorism and the recent attacks have compounded the internal security mosaic.” For the first time, he pointed out the provincial assembly’s general elections are being held both in the merged districts and settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at one time. The resident threat in merged districts is almost 100 percent more than in settled districts, he said. Due ·to this threat, the free movement of politicians and polling staff is not possible, the governor warned. He also said all political parties were opposing elections unless the threat was minimized.

He said the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was heavily indebted of around Rs 1000 billion to the Asian Development Bank and World Bank as well as its security and administrative machinery was largely engaged in counter-terrorism and mainstreaming of ex-FATA region, which is heavily non-conducive to holding of an election. It was also pointed out it would be a great constitutional anomaly and matter of concern if the provincial assemblies’ elections were conducted on the old census and delimitation and after the already scheduled fresh census, the National Assembly elections will be held on the new census, leading to a dichotomy between both, necessitating fresh provincial assemblies elections. For the sake of public interest, it is suggested that in furthering the consultation process, the election date may be appointed after taking all stakeholders on board including the ministries of interior and defence and keeping in view ongoing anti-terrorist operations, which are likely to culminate in few months,” he said.

The chief secretary and IGP Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in their briefings to the ECP meeting explained serious security and law and order issues, and said they are expecting a further surge in terrorism from April to October, besides serious financial challenges at hand. The IGP Akhtar Hayat, said in case the elections to the provincial assembly and the National Assembly were held separately, not only the expenditure will double but the threat to law enforcement agencies will also increase.

Hayat briefed the ECP that various terrorist groups were involved in terrorism in different areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by crossing the border from Badakhshan, Nuristan, Kunar, Nagarhar, Paktia and other areas of Afghanistan. He said that in the year 2022, there were 495 terrorist incidents in the province. In 2023, he continued, there have been 118 terrorist incidents in which 100 people were martyred and 275 people were injured: The areas of terrorist activities include North Waziristan, Lakki Marwat, Bannu, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts of southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; And the conditions in the newly merged districts (erstwhile FATA) are also not conducive for holding elections.

The IGP said that the situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is very bad compared to the rest of the country and elections are not just a day’s activity, as the police also have to provide security during election rallies, to political leaders and their transportation. He said that now if the provincial assembly elections are held and later the National Assembly are held the risks for the law enforcement agencies will also increase. And voters and election staff will also have to face this dangerous situation twice. He said holding a peaceful and transparent election is also one of the constitutional responsibilities, which will be a difficult thing in these circumstances.

Chief Secretary Imdadullah Bosal informed the meeting that the provincial government is facing a financial deficit of Rs19 billion and it would need about Rs1.6 billion more to hold provincial assembly elections, which is difficult for the provincial government to fulfil. He also made it clear that the expenses of the Election Commission for the conduct of the elections will be in addition to this. He added that the law and order situation in the province is tense and the police are facing a shortage of 56,000 personnel to conduct the elections. “Therefore, it cannot be guaranteed that the upcoming elections will be peaceful. Moreover, the deployment of Pakistan Army/FC during elections is very important as police alone cannot control law and order during elections,” Bosal noted.

In the end, Chief Election Commissioner stressed that the conduct of general polls was a constitutional obligation and the commission has completed the consultative process and will shortly make a suitable decision to this effect.