Our Correspondent Muzaffarabad
On the Election Commission’s request, the Azad Jammu and Kashmir government granted magisterial powers to Pakistan Army officers summoned on July 25 to assist the electoral body and administration for maintaining law and order on the polling day.
Earlier this month it was reported that the army would be on ‘standby’ to assist the conduct of the General Election for the Legislative Assembly on July 25 after a requisition request for troops was made by AJK Election Commission,
A notification by the Ministry of Interior dated July 8 states that it is ‘pleased to authorise the deployment of Pakistan Army (standby) 1,600 x troops of Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) at highly sensitive polling stations and 4,000 x troops of Frontier Constabulary for conduct of General Election of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly scheduled to be held on 25th July 2021’.
The notification went on to state that the exact dates of deployment will be worked out between the AJK government and its election commission and concerned authorities in Pakistan, subject to the laws enforced in the country.
Sources within the AJK election commission had said that the word ‘standby’ was used so that the troops will not be present inside polling stations.
An approval by Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Federal Cabinet for the deployment of troops to AJK was already obtained.
A letter was sent to the prime minister on July 8 by the AJK Chief Election Commissioner, retired Justice Abdul Rashid Sulehria.
In it he had stated that the government is making the utmost efforts to ensure the elections ‘shall be conducted in most fair, judicious and transparent so that electors will have a fair opportunity to exercise their fundamental right of franchise without any intimidation or coercion.’
The chief election commissioner had added: ‘The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Election Commission being an independent constitutional entity shall be accorded desired assistance from Executive Organs of AJK Government and the Federal and Provincial Governments of Pakistan for all 45 electoral constituencies which are located within AJK and territory of Pakistan for Jammu and Kashmir Refugees settled in different parts of Pakistan.’
He had noted that the deployment of troops ‘has always been a popular demand from the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ and was therefore a matter brought up in a meeting of all parties on June 18.
The CEC had noted that the people have confidence in the Army and demanded their presence at all occasions of General Elections of Azad Jammu and Kashmir ‘due to obvious reasons that most of electoral constituencies of AJK Legislative Assembly are located all along Line of Control (LoC) where only Pakistan Army can become saviour for the population by ensuring their protection and conducive environment for electors to cast their vote at polling stations freely without any fear of hostile firing from Indian forces’.