The Interior Ministry on Wednesday informed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that armed forces will not be available for security of upcoming elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as they were already busy with routine work, counter-terror operations and census duties.
Earlier this week, the ECP had asked the federal government to ensure the deployment of troops for polling in the provincial assemblies and several constituencies of the National Assembly. However, in its response, the Interior Ministry has stressed that Pakistan is in the midst of a terror surge and troops are deployed for border security, internal security, maintenance of law and order and forward posts to counter the threat of terrorism posed by anti-state elements.
Recalling that intelligence agencies and the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) have issued several threat alerts in recent months, it said that terrorism was resurging, as evident from the suicide bombing at Peshawar’s Police Lines last week that killed over 80 people, mostly policemen. This rise in terrorism, read the letter, required the maximum capacity of law enforcement agencies, leaving little space for any other activities. It also noted that a terrorist organization—the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan—had recently threatened politicians and there were fears of politicians becoming potential targets during the election campaign.
According to the Interior Ministry, it had discussed the ECP’s request with the Military Operations Directorate at the General Headquarters and been similarly informed that troops were involved in their routine work as well as readying for a new census, set to begin next month. Due to this, it said, they were not available to ensure security for elections. However, it added, the Rangers could be deployed in a limited capacity for by-polls, which require less security.
Earlier, during briefings to the ECP, the inspectors general of police in both Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had likewise warned of a prevailing terror threat and warned that they lacked the personnel required by the electoral body to ensure safe and secure elections.