- Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor says Pakistani military is a non-partisan institution, will execute duties in line with ECP’s code of conduct
- Says politicians changing loyalties before elections is not a new phenomenon, ISI not involved
- Says army will accept whoever the people choose to be their prime minister
RAWALPINDI: The Pakistani military’s chief spokesman on Tuesday sought to allay concerns regarding the army’s role in the upcoming general elections, stating that the military will support the electoral process without playing any ‘direct role’ in the conduct of the polls.
Amid allegations that ‘aliens’ –a term used for military officials– are influencing the polls, Director General of the Inter–Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor assured reporters at a press conference at the General Headquarters that the army will fulfill its duties in a “non-political and impartial manner”.
As elections come near, political parties, especially the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have started calling out the military for ‘influencing’ the polls, calling it ‘pre-poll rigging’. Deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was recently convicted in an assets beyond means reference, has mounted his criticism of powers-that-be and accused the military establishment of forcing PML-N’s ‘electable candidates’ to change their loyalties.
The army, however, has repeatedly denied these accusations, saying such allegations have been levelled in the past as well and they hold no weight.
“We are not Khalai Makhlooq (aliens), we are Rab Ki Makhlooq (God’s beings). Those making such political statements will see the consequences in due time,” he said.
In a reply to candidates switching loyalties and joining a particular party in droves allegedly under the pressure of ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], the ISPR DG said, “Has there ever been an election in which candidates haven’t jumped ship?”
In an answer to a question, he said, “106 million Pakistanis will vote but is it possible for us to go to every citizen and tell them who to vote for?” “Come out and vote for whatever leader, and whatever party you like,” the general invited voters, adding, “We do not have any political party or alignment and are working only for the country.”
As Nawaz and others link electoral symbol of ‘Jeep’ to the army, the ISPR chief remarked it is the ECP that allots symbols, not the ISI.
“Moreover, the Jeep that they are trying to paint as ours doesn’t even resemble army jeep’s model,” he quipped.
He also said that a PML-N candidate from Multan — who had accused the country’s premier spy agency of pressuring him into switching parties but then backtracked saying it had, in fact, been the agriculture department — has been investigated by the Agriculture Department for around two years for alleged misdoings during a past tenure there.
Maj Gen Ghafoor further said the military will execute its duties in line with a code of conduct issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), adding, its top priority is to maintain peace and security in the country.
THE TASK THE ECP HAS ENTRUSTED THE ARMY WITH:
Maintenance of overall security in the country; provision of security to printing presses; transportation of the material before election day; transportation of material from RO office to polling stations as well as security of polling staff on polling day; deployment on polling day inside and outside polling stations; securely transporting election material and polling staff back to Election Commission offices.
The ISPR chief reminded that this was not the first time that the forces were being deployed for election duty. He said in 1997, 192,000 troops had been delegated on duty to oversee 25,000 polling stations for what he termed a “full deployment”.
In 2002, 35,000 were deployed for the overall security of 64,470 polling stations, he said, adding in 2008, 39,000 troops were deployed even though the number of polling stations was much higher (64,100) because the troops were, again, only in charge of overall security.
The ISPR chief went on to say that the elections in 2013 were held in circumstances where “terrorists were threatening politicians so that they stay from campaign”. “Many politicians had received death threats and an Awami National Party (ANP) leader [Bashir Ahmed Bilour] had been killed. To counter the prevailing insecurity, 75,000 troops had been deployed for 70,185 polling stations,” Maj Ghafoor said.
He said that in the 2018 elections, 105.95 million eligible voters will be able to exercise their right to vote at 85,307 polling stations, hosted inside 48,500 buildings as more than one station may exist in the same building. A total of 371,388 security forces officials will be deployed for election duty.
The military spokesperson said that there are questions about elections taking place or not.
“I am constantly asked whether elections will be held or not but Pakistan is headed towards the general election and this is the third election which will ensure the democratic process,” Gen Ghafoor said.
“If you see any irregularity on the polling day, please make a note and bring it to our notice,” he said. “Report it to the ECP and report to us. Please leave the soldiers deployed to election duty alone. They are there to do a job and have been briefed accordingly.”
“Considering the situation on our borders, the civil armed forces and retired personnel are also being commissioned for the purpose,” he said, adding that the total deployment includes 134,894 reservists (who have retired from forces within the past five years) and around 4,000 personnel each from Pakistan Air Force and Navy.
Regarding overseeing the process of the printing of ballot papers, he said that the army will only ‘transport the ballot papers in a secured manner’. “We will not take over the printing material, the ECP staff will handle that,” he clarified.
However, he assured that troops will remain deployed at printing presses to ensure no ballot papers are printed afterwards.
“In Rawalpindi, we have established an army election support centre to coordinate and if needed communicate with ECP,” the DG ISPR said. “We are bound to implement a code of conduct issued by the ECP when executing our duties,” he further said.
Further, the DG ISPR shared that the ECP has made a system through which pictures will be taken and transmitted to returning officers to ensure that when the votes are counted they are neither less nor more.
There was an awkward moment when an unidentified reporter asked the ISPR chief that since the accountability drive was in full swing with Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari in the crunch, so how about bringing Imran Khan into the accountability net as well. However, Gen Ghafoor ignored the question.
Speaking about social media misuse, which he had ‘addressed’ at length during his last press conference, he said, “We do not want to control social media.”
In response to a question that whether the army will accept Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan as prime minister, Gen Ghafoor said that whoever is elected will be the prime minister for the military and the nation.