In a briefing to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), civilian and military intelligence agencies have advised against conducting general elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa at the current juncture in time, warning of persistent terror threats.
Chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, a meeting to discuss security arrangements for elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was attended by ECP officials as well as representatives of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and counterterrorism departments (CTDs) of both provinces. According to local media, all security personnel advised the ECP against conducting elections at this point in time, stressing that intelligence reports indicated militants might try to target polling stations and political leaders.
Reportedly, an ISI representative suggested postponing polls by 3-4 months, while an IB official said the situation in Punjab was not conducive to peaceful polls because of the presence of armed militants from Afghanistan in the province. Another official stressed that the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was “highly active” in KP, adding the province had many other security concerns as well. Emphasizing the “difficult” security situation nationwide, all officials warned that conducting general polls at this point carried major risks to public safety.
According to sources within the ECP, the electoral body apprised the security officials of the constitutional requirement to hold polls within 90 days of an assembly’s dissolution, noting that a Supreme Court ruling had reaffirmed this while allowing the “barest minimum” deviation due to the delay in announcing a date for polls. In a statement, the ECP said the CEC had thanked the participants and said the briefing would help in determining how to conduct peaceful elections.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led governments of Punjab and KP were dissolved on Jan. 14 and Jan. 18, respectively, with the law requiring polls to take place within 90 days of their assemblies’ dissolution. However, a date for polls could not be announced in sufficient time to ensure this, with the Punjab governor maintaining that as he did not dissolve the assembly, he lacks the legal mandate to announce a date for polls. The KP governor, meanwhile, did dissolve the assembly, but has repeatedly urged the ECP to discuss the matter with security agencies before deciding on a date for polls.
Taking notice of the delays, the Supreme Court had taken suo motu notice, ruling in favor of conducting polls within 90 days. However, it allowed for the “barest minimum” deviation from the schedule, noting that it was no longer possible to meet the deadline because of the delays in announcing the schedule and the minimum time needed for fulfilling all pre-poll requirements, such as suitable time for submitting nomination papers and campaigning.
Last week, the president announced April 30 as the date for polls in Punjab, with the ECP issuing a schedule for the elections earlier this week. However, no date has as yet been announced for polls in KP. In addition to security concerns, the ECP is also facing resistance from the finance and interior ministries, with the former maintaining Pakistan lacks the funds necessary for polls and the latter stressing that law enforcement agencies are unable to provide adequate personnel to ensure security during the electoral process.