Pakistan Army Ensured Free Elections
By Shaheen Sehbai, The News, February 22, 2008
ISLAMABAD: Clear instructions were issued to the police and local government Nazims by the relevant military authorities throughout the country not to interfere with the polls on Feb 18, a key decision which turned polling day into a free and fair exercise, despite the “script” which had been written a long time back.
According to an opposition candidate who won by a huge margin, the DPOs, Nazims and all the Election Commission officials had received these instructions and it was visible why the polling and the results were so transparent.
“I was surprised when I complained of some problems at a couple of polling stations and before anyone else, the police were already there to sort out the matter,” the winning candidate from a closely-contested Punjab seat said.
The local administrations were told by the relevant centres of power that the election had to be very free and fair and no nonsense was to be tolerated. This was the key factor that changed the scenario within 36 hours.
The instructions issued by the relevant military authorities were a logical follow-up to the announcement made by the Pakistan Army days before the polling date that the Army was not going to be responsible for the quality of the elections and it would only respond to the call of the civil administration if there was a law and order problem.
This position taken by the Army was the decision taken by its new chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, who had told the first group of journalists he met two weeks before the polls that the Army would not get involved in the elections, which were the responsibility of the Election Commission and the government.
The overwhelming view in Islamabad is that the “script” for rigging the elections was ready and the PML-Q and even the top people in the Presidency believed that it would be executed, in letter and spirit, on election day.
“But the Army’s decision to pull back and declare itself a non-party in the quality of the elections, was a major factor followed by clear instructions to all ISI, MI and local administration officials, under the administrative control of the Army, which made the difference on the election day,” a recently-elected PML-N MNA said.
The MNA-elect said the same policy will now be followed by the Pakistan Army with regard to the formation of the new government. “The Army will stay neutral and the Presidency will have to fight its own battles with political supporters, if they have any.”