Election commission says will consider relocating ‘sensitive’ polling stations for tribal belt elections

A soldier stands guard as voters line up outside a polling station during general election in Rawalpindi, Pakistan July 25, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 06 July 2019
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Election commission says will consider relocating ‘sensitive’ polling stations for tribal belt elections

  • We can consider this option if tribal elders and candidates put in an official application, senior ECP official says
  • On July 20, there will be polling at 1,897 stations of which 584 have been marked ‘sensitive’ and 455 ‘most sensitive’

PESHAWAR: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said on Friday the polling body and security officials had chalked out a comprehensive plan to ensure that upcoming elections in the erstwhile tribal areas were held in a secure and peaceful environment but said it would consider relocating hundreds of polling stations at a security risk if candidates and tribal elders officially requested it. 
Last May, Pakistan’s parliament voted to merge seven lawless tribal regions previously known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas into the country’s political and legal mainstream, granting the area’s five million majority ethnic Pashtuns the same constitutional rights as other Pakistanis.
The first-ever provincial elections in the newly merged areas are now scheduled for July 20. Over the years, the lawlessness of the tribal regions have provided a haven for militants, gun runners and drug smugglers, with residents complaining they have been caught between the brutality of the militant groups that sheltered there and a state that has tried to combat them through armed operations. Security remains precarious. 
This week, tribal leaders and candidates of some opposition parties demanded that the Election Commission shift polling stations located in sensitive areas to more secure locations in the newly-merged districts and deploy women security personnel in women-only polling stations.
According to the Election Commission, there will be polling at 1,897 stations throughout the erstwhile tribal areas on July 20, with 958 of them declared normal, 584 sensitive and 455 marked as most sensitive.
Khushal Zada, a deputy director at the ECP, told Arab News that those demanding that sensitive polling stations be shifted to secure zones should officially approach the Election Commission.
“We can consider this if they officially come up with an application regarding relocation of those polling stations declared highly sensitive,” Zada said. “There are no official complaints about inaccessibility or imminent insecurity even in remote polling stations.”
“District police officers chalked out an inclusive security plan at a meeting attended by Returning Officers, District Returning Officers and top security officials to secure all polling stations, specifically those declared most sensitive,” Zada added. 
He said election staff would be reinforced by security forces and police on patrol duty. 
Sohail Ahmad, provincial ECP spokesman, said the military would ensure security during the upcoming election in the erstwhile FATA areas.
As per the ECP’s plan, soldiers will be deployed inside and outside polling stations for all 16 seats in the provincial elections from July 18 to July 21 to assist the ECP in conducting free, fair and transparent elections. The military has been requisitioned by the ECP under Articles 220 and 245 of the Constitution.
Security forces will be deployed at the Printing Corporation of Pakistan in Islamabad from July 5 to July 20 to help transport and store ballot papers. Soldiers will escort ballot papers from the printing corporation to the offices of the District Returning Officers and the Returning Officers and then from the offices of ROs to the polling stations. After polling ends, security forces will escort ballot papers back to the district treasuries and ECP strong rooms as per the plan issued by the commission. Troops will remain at the offices of returning officers until the consolidation of elections results.
Security forces will also be deployed at all venues where presiding officers, senior assistant presiding officers and polling officers will be trained from June 24 to July 7.
“Security personnel will be deployed inside and outside highly sensitive polling stations but they will only be deployed outside those polling stations declared sensitive and normal,” the ECP spokesman added. 
Mir Kalam Wazir, an independent candidate, said he expected people to come out and vote even in highly sensitive areas but “there was no harm in relocating some polling stations if people were demanding it.”


India defends blocking politicians from visiting Kashmir

Updated 25 August 2019
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India defends blocking politicians from visiting Kashmir

  • If everything is normal, asks opposition’s Rahul Gandhi, why are Congress leaders not allowed in Jammu and Kashmir
  • Hurriyat Conference has released its first official comment since the clampdown, calling for locals to resist New Delhi’s move 

NEW DELHI: Authorities on Sunday defended blocking opposition Indian politicians from visiting Muslim-majority Kashmir, saying it was to “avoid controversy” weeks after stripping the restive region of its autonomy and imposing a major clampdown.
India’s Hindu-nationalist government has been criticized by the main opposition Congress party over the contentious move on August 5 that brings Kashmir — which has waged an armed rebellion against Indian control since 1989 — under its direct rule.
The region remains under strict lockdown with movement limited and many phone and Internet services cut, although authorities say they have been easing restrictions gradually.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, still a key figure in India as a scion of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, was earlier invited by local governor Satya Pal Malik to visit Kashmir.
But a video released by Congress showed Gandhi questioning officials about why he was stopped from entering Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar at the airport on Saturday.
“The governor has said I’m invited. He has invited me so I have come but you’re saying I can’t go,” he said.
“And the government is saying everything is OK, everything is normal. So if everything is normal, why are we not allowed out? It is a bit surprising.”
Regional police chief Dilbagh Singh told AFP police supported the decision.
“In an environment that is getting to normalcy, we didn’t want any controversial statement from anyone. That’s why they were asked to return from the airport itself,” Singh said.
Malik told the ANI news agency he invited Gandhi out of goodwill but that he then politicized the issue.
The controversy came as key separatist group Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of local political parties, released its first official comments since the clampdown and called for locals to “resist at this critical juncture” New Delhi’s move.
“Each and every person must face the naked Indian brutality with courage ... People should organize peaceful protests and demonstrations in their areas of residence,” top separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani said in a statement obtained by AFP.
The Hurriyat Conference, which supports Kashmir’s right to choose whether it wants to be part of India or Pakistan, added that Pakistan and the wider Muslim community should “come forward to ... help the besieged people.”
The call came as India’s home affairs ministry refuted a report by India’s News18 television on Sunday that the region was running out of lifesaving medicines, saying supplies were “slightly higher than the monthly average.”