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

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.”


Soybean dust 'likely cause' of Karachi toxic gas deaths — officials

Updated 18 February 2020

Soybean dust 'likely cause' of Karachi toxic gas deaths — officials

  • 14 people have died since Sunday night, 350 have been hospitalized
  • Pakistan State Oil temporarily closes its storage terminals in Kiamari

KARACHI: Authorities on Tuesday said that soybean dust was the likely cause of toxic gas that killed 14 and left over 300 others sick in Pakistan’s portside city of Karachi since Sunday night.
“Preliminary report has been submitted by experts at Khi (Karachi) Uni (university) which suggests that Kiamari incident happened due to over exposure of soybean dust which is known to have also caused similar incidents in other parts of the world,” Murtaza Wahab, spokesperson of the Sindh government tweeted late Tuesday.
“This soybean is in a shipment docked at Khi Port,” he added.
The report by the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), which was sent to Karachi’s commissioner and is available to Arab News, read that the deaths were caused soybean dust exposure.
“The symptoms due to exposure to soybean dust (aeroallergens) may be considered as the possible cause,” the report stated, urging bronchodilator and anti-histamine treatment for the patients and extreme care while uploading soybean containers.
The report said that soybean dust exposure-related epidemics have been reported in other parts of the world with associated morbidity and mortality.

Earlier, a government source told Arab News that the incident occurred during unloading of soybeans on Saturday evening at berth 12 of Karachi Port Trust (KPT) after MV Hercules arrived from the US. The unloading created dust which made its way toward Jackson area of Karachi’s Kiamari municipality.
According to sources, MV Hercules was fumigated on Jan. 8 at Cargill grain reserve Los Angeles, US after loading onboard with 56 degree aluminum phosphide “using one of approved methods.”
The breathing of aluminum phosphide can irritate the nose, throat and lungs causing coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath whereas repeated exposure may damage the lungs, kidneys and liver. Aluminum phosphide reacts with water or moisture to release highly toxic and flammable phosphine gas, the sources said, adding that “It is likely that exposure to particles of aluminum phosphide may have created problems for individuals passing by at that time and such unfortunate incident.”
Meanwhile, health officials said the death toll from the poisonous gas leak has reached 14.
“At least 14 people have died in four different hospitals of the city,” Dr. Zafar Mehdi, spokesperson of the health department said, adding that over 350 others have been impacted and needed treatment.
Officials at Ziauddin Hospital, where most of the affected persons were brought, said they received over a hundred patients on Sunday night, of whom four died.
“There was lull during the day and then again over a hundred visited the hospital, indicating that the gas impacts go high during humidity at night,” Amir Shehzad, spokesperson of the health facility, told Arab News.
Meanwhile, spokesperson of the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) said his company had closed operations at Kiamari storage terminals.
“PSO has temporarily closed its storage terminals in the Kiamari, Karachi due to health and safety reasons. The operations on this location will resume as soon as the area is deemed safe for the company’s staff and contractors to operate.”
“There will be as such no impact of this temporary closure on supply of POL products within Karachi, and in upcountry locations. PSO has sufficient stock available, with backup supply arrangements already in place to ensure an uninterrupted supply of the POL products,” spokesperson told Arab News.