The promise of election security


Coordination issues should be resolved immediately

“Coordinate” is the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) war cry to law enforcement agencies (LEAs) as we enter the last two weeks of electioneering. Candidates in three out of four provinces are under threat, with reknowned politicians having been killed or narrowly escaped attacks in Khyber Pakthunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan. The ECP and the interior ministry are increasingly on the backfoot as they note that “federal and provincial law enforcement agencies” must ensure fool-proof security to polling staff and voters. Directions have been given to ensure security is provided to candidates, but with multiple enemies on the prowl, it appears that the matter will not be resolved with the same ease as statements are given out. Another meeting is scheduled with the representatives of the federal and provincial caretakers on April 25 to discuss the security plan for the general elections.

However, the fact that ECP has also proposed the implementation of recommendations of the Parliament Committee’s report of 2009, suggests that the elected governments failed miserably to try to implement the same report. Caretaker Interior Minister Malik Habib has especially pointed to Karachi as a main point of fissure and claimed some leads have been received about the security threats. However, his assurances that “the government would spare no effort to address the security threats in Karachi and elsewhere” has not provided relief to political parties, with MQM candidate Nabil Gabol having formally requested the ECP to deploy troops in Lyari on the polling day. Whether the demand is met or not, on the ground, the Awami National Party (ANP) and MQM appear to be the two parties most under threat, and the security threat cannot be mitigated. The ECP has disturbingly reported that it has been reported a total of 728 threats, of which around 490 have been received from the Punjab, 159 from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 55 from Sindh and 24 from Balochistan. Similarly, the Balochistan government has decided to provide security to all candidates, with around four to six official security guards being provided to each candidate as well as election commission staff.

With FAFEN reporting 13 different incidents of electoral violence around the country, claiming 23 lives in the last week, down from 170 dead in the week before, it appears that perhaps some of the security measures are bearing fruit. But FATA, KP and Sindh all remain extremely volatile. It is important that the ECP’s complaint of the lack of coordination between LEAs should be addressed immediately. Intelligence received on possible threats should be followed by immediate action. If not, it is known that militants are trying their best to create an incident that could jeopardize the upcoming polls – something Pakistan can least afford at this stage.