KARACHI  -  Excluding PPP, MQM and their former allies, about 17 political groups, in their joint written suggestion at an all-parties conference hosted by the Sindh interim government on Tuesday, demanded deployment of army in Karachi to ensure security for upcoming polls.

Sources said PPP, MQM, ANP and PML-Q opposed army deployment for polling stations, and as a result a consensus was nowhere at the huddle, presided over by Chief Minister Justice (retired) Zahid Kurban Alvi at Cabinet Room of new Sindh Secretariat.

The chief secretary, Rangers director general, Sindh Police chief, representatives of intelligence agencies and election observers from European Union also attended the moot mainly called for achieving a consensus on how to go about polls during ongoing violence.

Nevertheless, all the parties agreed on implementation of the code of conduct for elections which abstains them from wall-chalking, hoisting banners and party flags on private properties.

Acting on the suggestion of the parties, the government however has decided to install surveillance cameras at sensitive polling stations for the polling process in Karachi.

Interestingly, Information Minister Noorul Huda Shah told a news conference that none of the participants opposed deployment of army for polls and postponing or delaying of elections.

She said the people of Pakistan as well as the political parties were unanimous to continue with the process of democracy through conduct of elections.

According to Chief Secretary Chaudhry Aijaz Ahmed, the Sindh government, two days ago, sent a letter to the defence and interior ministries asking them to keep army on standby. He said, “Army would be available at 5,500 sensitive polling stations across the province of Sindh, including 3,000 polling stations in Karachi from today.” He added under Article 249(2) of the Constitution, the provincial, district administration and presiding officers of polling stations could call out army, if needed.

The chief secretary said sensitive and highly sensitive polling stations had been characterised on the basis of the situation in an area as well as its profile, election candidates, information of intelligence agencies and past record of elections. For a normal polling station, he added, the government has decided to only four cops. “The government has devised a three-pronged strategy that included printing of stationary and transportation of election-related material to polling stations; bring back the results under army security, etc,” Ahmed added.

About measures being taken for security on the polling day, the chief minister’s advisor Sharifuddin Memon said the voting process would be monitored through CCTVs connected to a centralised system at the Home Department and central police office. Besides, he added, SSPs and DCs had been directed to start patrolling from five in the evening till midnight in Karachi and other parts of the province.

The advisor told the media that keeping the security situation in the view, the government would request the election commission to relax the ban on provision of transport facilities to the voters. Once preparations are finalised, details about the security plan would be shared with the political parties and government representatives, he added.

Talking to the media, a PPP leader, ND Khan, claimed there was no consensus on deployment of army among the groups that attended the all-parties huddle. Another PPP leader Taj Haider was of the view that law-enforcement agencies were well aware of threats and terrorists’ whereabouts, so the civil administration must be used to take action against them.

MQM’s Faisal Sabzwari said “we have expressed reservations over deployment of army”, recalling that the establishment had stopped his party from vying polls on specific seats that prompted a boycott by them. Sabzwari also said some parties wanted to take benefit of recent attacks on liberal parties.

Meanwhile, the 18-point code of conduct of the Election Commission of Pakistan and Home Department which the political parties in the APC agreed on for implementation advised the parties not to involve in fiery or provocative speeches leading to violent behavior during meetings and processions or polling hours.

The participants signed the code of conduct, which stated that contesting candidates and their supporters shall follow the directions of Election Commission, in addition to the laws and rules of the state, and strictly observe the following code of conduct, which reads as: “Contesting candidates and their supporters shall strictly avoid provocation leading to violent behavior during meetings and processions or polling hours”.

The code of conduct stated that the hoisting or fixing party flags on any public property or public place by any person or political party is prohibited except in a manner provided in the code of conduct. Use of any individual’s land, building, compound wall etc: is not permitted without his /her permission for hoisting party flags, fixing banners, pasting notices, writing slogans of any type etc, besides the political opinion or activity of any person shall not be infringed by any political party or contesting candidate.

All forms of wall chalking/ graffiti are prohibited during election campaigns. Loudspeakers can only be used at election meetings, while no contesting candidate or supporter shall indulge in any activity which may stir feelings of parochialism and sectarianism including conflicts among genders, communities and linguistic groups.

It further said that all political parties shall cooperate with law-enforcement agencies for maintenance of peace and tranquility in their respective areas. The ban already imposed by the Sindh government on carrying/displaying arms aerial firing, use of crackers, explosives at public meetings, processions shall be strictly adhered to.

Carrying out public rallies and processions by the political parties shall only be permitted through the specified routes in consultation with district /police administration. Due to the prevailing security environment, venue of meetings in relation to election shall be arranged in consultation with the District Administration. Prior permission regarding such meetings shall be obtained from concerned Police Stations / District Administration 72 hours before its conduct.