Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Usman Anwar on Wednesday informed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that almost all districts of the province face threats from terrorism and it will be “difficult” to conduct polls in this challenging scenario.
Briefing a meeting presided over by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, he said police had used intelligence to prevent 213 terror incidents in the province since December 2022, adding that intelligence agencies have issued terror threats for almost all districts of the province. “Hotspot districts topping the list include Lahore, Sheikhupura, Sahiwal, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan,” he said, adding that “various” terrorist groups were operating in Bhakkar, Mianwali and Dera Ghazi Khan. “These groups are regularly formed, comprising 20-30 people, who arrive from Afghanistan and carry out terrorism,” he alleged.
The IGP also noted that police were currently conducting a security operation in the rural areas of South Punjab, as well as surrounding districts, and this would take 4-5 months to conclude. “It will be a difficult task to conduct elections until the operation is concluded,” he said, explaining that while 412,852 police personnel were required to ensure security during polls, the province only had 115,000 personnel and would need to secure the services of the Pakistan Army and Rangers to overcome the shortfall.
The Punjab top cop’s concerns echo sentiments voiced by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa IGP Moazzam Jah Ansari, who had told the ECP a day earlier that he could not rule out the threat of terrorism during upcoming elections in the province. In his briefing, Ansari had noted that at least 150,000 personnel were required for security during polls, but the provincial police only had 93,000. Even if the full strength is achieved, he warned, police could not promise peaceful elections.
Punjab Chief Secretary Zahid Akhtar Zaman, also briefing the ECP, said the province needed Rs. 42 billion to ensure law and order during elections, noting the prevailing economic crunch that made its allocation a difficult prospect. Echoing remarks already issued by several federal ministers, he suggested conducting elections for both the national and provincial assemblies on the same day. “If this is not possible, then by-elections of the National Assembly and provincial assembly polls should be held on the same day. If this is not done, the expenditure on elections will be twofold. In such a situation, law enforcement agencies won’t be able to provide foolproof security,” he warned, stressing there is a “serious threat” of terrorism in the province.
The PTI dissolved the provincial assemblies of Punjab and KP last month in a bid to trigger general elections, but the governors of both provinces have refused to issue a date for polls, advising the ECP to consult with stakeholders before issuing any schedule. In recent days, the PTI has started alleging that efforts are underway to delay the polls beyond the allowed 90 days, which party chief Imran Khan says would be akin to treason. On Wednesday, President Arif Alvi wrote a letter to the ECP, urging it to “immediately” announce a date for polls.