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Pakistan Army's interference before the general elections 2018
Pakistan's next general elections, scheduled for July 25, 2018 would be conducted under the direct supervision of the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Rangers, a paramilitary law enforcement organization under the Pakistan Army. In the meanwhile, Pakistan Army is being accused of interfering in the electoral process, encouraging and in some cases even threatening politicians to switch over their allegiance, muzzling the media and imposing unannounced censorship.

However, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor obliquely denied (Rawalpindi, June 5, 2018) charges against the Army and added that the Army should not be dragged into politics especially in wale of the upcoming general elections. He further asserted that to conduct the elections was the responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the military has "nothing to do with the exercise", except to carry out the assigned task given by the ECP.

However, despite Major General Gafoor's denial it is a fact that the Pakistan Army would play proactive role in holding the general elections on July 25, 2018, which is not being taken well in some political quarters of the country. Pakistan Army and its paramilitary wing, Rangers, will be deployed both inside and outside the polling stations to ensure security during the elections. Services of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) would also be availed to prevent any untoward incidents and to secure polling stations. Meanwhile, out of the total 85,252 polling stations, 20,000 have been identified as "sensitive" or "'very sensitive' which would be specially supervised and managed by the army and such polling stations would also fitted with three to four closed-circuit television cameras across the country.

Furthermore, printing of ballot paper and its delivery along with managing the security of the printing presses would also be carried out by the Pakistan Army. The Army would be deployed at the Security Printing Press from June 27 to July 25, 2018 to oversee this job. For the first time in Pakistan's history ballot papers to be used for voting would have an exclusive watermark for which special paper has been purchased from France costing over Pak Rs one billion. ECP will print ballot paper only from three printing presses – for constituencies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Islamabad from Printing Corporation; those in Balochistan, Sindh and South Punjab from National Security Printing Press and for remaining constituencies in Punjab from Postal Printing Press.

Pakistan Army is also being accused of muzzling and "squeezing" the media. Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) is being ignored in favour of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) in the upcoming elections. Nawaz Sharif has regularly been accusing the Army of harassing his partymen and forcing them to defect to PTI. Some PML(N) lawmakers belonging to Punjab province have also complained of being intimidated and asked by 'unknown" persons on telephone to change their allegiance to Imran Khan's Pakisatn Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. They believe that the callers were probably intelligence agents, purportedly from ISI. In the meanwhile, 15 former members of the National Assembly belonging to PML(N) have already defected to PTI, reportedly at the behest of the Army.

Similarly, Pakistan Army has also been accused of threatening and intimidating journalists and print and electronic media people for "leaning" towards Nawaz Sharif and his PML(N) party. In Lahore two journalists were abducted in the first week of June 2018, including one lady journalist Gul Bukhari, who is a Pakistani-British national. Incidentally, Bukhari, herself is daughter of a late army general. However, Pakistan Army has denied its involvement in such incidents. Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) while denying Army's hand in abduction of Gul Bukhari also claimed that he had checked with intelligence agencies working for the Army whether Bukhari had been detained by them. Even British minister Mark Field had expressed concern over the abduction of Gul Bukhari.

Furthermore, Pakistan Army is also accused of meddling with the freedom of th electronic and print media before the elections. In April 2018, a popular Pakistani TV channel 'Geo" was put off air for about two weeks in many parts of the country on the directions of the Army as the channel was accused of carrying a "false and scandalous campaign" against ISI. Notably, on April 19, 2018, an assassination attempt was made on Hamid Gul, an anchorperson of 'Geo' TV by four ISI men in Karachi. The channel could resume its services only after its promoters succumbed under Army's pressure and compromised over issues like coverage of ISI, Nawaz Sharif and his party PML(N).

Print media has also been harassed and intimidated by the Army. Pakistan's most popular English daily 'Dawn' had earned the wrath of Pakistan Army allegedly for its anti-establishment and pro-PML(N) coverage and the daily's circulation was stopped in May 2018, in many army cantonment areas of the country and newspaper hawkers were harassed. The management of 'Dawn' took (June 19, 2018) serious note of army's pressure tactics and described it as a violation of article 19 of Constitution. In the meanwhile, some leading journalists and media houses have also complained of increasing censorship.

Despite the fact that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had declared holding of general elections on July 25, 2018 well in advance and started the process of receiving nomination forms for security, still a sense of uncertainty of holding timely elections prevailed amongst some leading political parties. Jamaat-i-Islami (JI)chief Sirajul Haq, in a statement, obliquely pointing towards Pakistan Army (Lahore, June 19, 2018) asserted that that doubts were hovering over the holding of general elections despite announcement of the schedule for elections and called upon the federal government and the ECP to clear these doubts. Sirajul Haq added that even on July 24, 2018 people will not be sure of elections taking place next day that is July 25, 2018.

Sirajul Haq also urged the ECP to enforce electoral laws and the code of conduct for elections to ensure that 'thugs and plunderers' should not once again make their way to the assemblies. Earlier, PPP leader and former Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah had urged (Khairpur, June 19, 2018) the state institutions to ensure that the upcoming general elections are held on time as democratic process in the country was important and 'necessary' for welfare of the nation.

"Military Meddling" has now become a permanent part of Pakistan's electoral process. Pakistan Army's controversial role in country's general elections is not a new phenomenon. It was PTI chief Imran Khan, presently the "blue eyed boy" of the Pakistan Army and reportedly being favoured over Nawaz Sharif for next premiership in 2018, who had spearhead a movement against the Pakistan Army for rigging the 2013 elections in support of Nawaz Sharif. The present political leadership of Pakistan has virtually accepted the present 'Magna Carta' of general elections in the country that no civilian government can exist without the will and support of the Pakistan Army. Thus, Pakistan Army's denial of having any role in the next general elections is beyond belief and surely far-fetched.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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