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ECP meeting today as unrest threatens polls in KP, Balochistan

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• Commission said to be mulling delayed elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan
• Polls on NA-8, PK-22 in Bajaur put off after candidate’s murder
• Fatal assault, blasts, attacks on offices mar campaigning in Balochistan
• Army brass declares zero tolerance for violence

 The Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP) has convened a high-level meeting today (Thursday) to discuss the deteriorating law and order situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balo­chistan in the lead-up to the Feb 8 elections, sparking fears that polls in the two provinces might be put off.

Separately, the military leadership has declared a zero-tolerance policy against political violence and vowed that no one would be allowed to sabotage elections.

The developments came after days of rising tensions and escalating violence, including the killing of an election candidate in Bajaur — leading to the postponement of elections in two constituencies of the district — and the death of another political worker in Chaman on Wednesday.

Several armed and grenade attacks were also reported in Balochistan, including one targeting the home of Zahoor Ahmed Buledi, a former provincial minister and PPP candidate for provincial assembly from Kech district.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the ECP said, “Keeping in view the deteriorating law and order situation, the ECP has convened a meeting on Thursday where Interior Minister, Secretary Interior, Chief Sec­retaries and Inspectors General of KP and Balochistan and representatives of intelligence agencies have been invited.”

In a separate statement, an ECP spokesman said the commission has also taken notice of a firing incident on a political party’s caravan, resulting in the killing of one person, and a grenade attack outside the house of Mr Buledi, a candidate from PB-25 in Kech district.

Though the ECP earlier dismissed the calls for putting off general elections over security concerns, many believe that the watchdog was setting the scene to postpone polls in KP and Balochistan.

A senior ECP official told Dawn the commission was disturbed over a surge in terrorist incidents. However, he said the provincial governments were responsible for the law and order situation, and the purpose of convening the meeting was to ask them to tighten security.

“As for now, no provincial government has sought to delay elections,” he said but insisted that polls could be put off in some constituencies with high disturbance levels if the situation warranted.

Another official, however, said that anything was possible. “It all depends on the nature and magnitude of the threat,” he told Dawn on the condition of anonymity, adding that the situation would be clear after briefings by the top officials.

Meanwhile, the ECP also faces a critical challenge in the upcoming elections: securing enough special security paper for potential reprints of ballot papers in certain constituencies.

“If the security paper is not available, there will be no option but to postpone the elections in these constituencies,” the ECP noted in a meeting on Wednesday.

Corps commanders’ moot

Meanwhile, the military leadership on Wednesday firmly declared a zero-tolerance stance against any acts of political violence during the forthcoming national elections.

“No one would be allowed to indulge in violence in the name of political activity and sabotage the quintessential democratic exercise of conduct of free and fair elections,” a statement issued at the end of the corps commanders conference read.

The meeting was chaired by Chief of the Army Staff Gen Asim Munir and attended by corps commanders and principal staff officers posted at the General Headquarters. Discussion on the deployment of army troops for the upcoming elections was a major agenda point at the meeting.

The military’s statement came against a backdrop of rising tensions and the looming threat of unrest as the country gears up for elections. This heightened atmosphere has been further exacerbated by the legal and political hurdles confronting key stakeholders in the political arena, casting doubts over the integrity of the upcoming polls. Such challenges have significantly complicated the country’s political landscape, adding to the already charged environment.

The commanders vowed that the deployed troops would perform election duties “as per the constitutional mandate, under the guidelines of ECP”.

As for the relations with Iran after deadly cross-border strikes, the army chief explained rapid de-escalation with that country.

“Pakistan believes in peaceful co-existence with all states. However, there would never be any compromise over the country’s sovereignty, national honour and aspirations of Pakistani people,” he asserted. “Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacrosanct and inviolable,” he added.

The commanders were also briefed on the Indian campaign of “extra-territorial and extra-judicial killings” in Pakistan.

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