Our role in conduct of free, fair and transparent General Elections 2018 started with the interaction of Lieutenant General Shahid Baig Mirza, Commander 5 Corps with all officers of 5 Corps on July 3, 2018. The commander reiterated army’s role in upcoming election as limited to providing assistance and security to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). He instructed all ranks to ensure that people of Pakistan are given equal treatment and provided safe/secure environment to vote as per their own will and wish.
We started the field election duties with effect from evening on July 23, 2018. All serving and retired army officers along with brave soldiers of Armed Forces/LEAs reached duty stations with limited resources in their respective areas of responsibility. Most of us, including officers, slept on floors/lawns of different schools and hostel buildings made available to us by the Government. Provision of food and water was one of the big problems for such a large force in different areas. However, we were invigorated by the spirit of performing our duty religiously as per the given mandate for the better future of Pakistan. On July 24, 2018, we provided security and assistance to the staff of ECP in delivering ballot papers and election material to all polling stations in a secure environment and the whole process was completed by 0200 hours on July 25, 2018. Having slept for around 3-4 hours, we started the duty by 0600 hours again on the same day.
I was responsible for 7 polling stations (28 polling booths) in KBCC School building in North Nazimabad, Karachi. Mostly people of that area belong to Muhajir community, apparently ethnically connected to MQM and PSP. When we started the day, I found people a little unsure about fair treatment to them. I welcomed everyone humbly, told them that we are their brothers and our duty was to ensure that their mandate is not stolen. Every citizen holding CNIC issued by NADRA is equally respectful for us and everyone will be given 100% liberty to vote for electing representatives as per his/her own choice. After some time, I felt that most of the workers/people apparently seemed to be linked with MQM or PSP and MMA. Anyhow, I kept visiting different polling booths to guide my soldiers never to interfere with the polling process (I was conscientious as I thought that due to lack of experience of such duty, simple soldiers might commit some mistake). I kept on deliberating (as instructed by the Corps Commander) that all powers are with presiding officers and our sole purpose was to provide security and assistance. Sometimes people asked us some queries which we referred to presiding officers.
Full respect was shown to the leaders/workers of MQM, PSP and MMA who remained there throughout the day to facilitate their people. They were politely told that we (army personnel) would honour all their suggestions/requirements but they had to respect the rules, laws and code of conduct defined by ECP. It was a general perception that any party out of above named three will win from that area. After some time, impressed by our behaviour, attitude and style of duty, workers of MQM and PSP showed us a lot of respect and satisfaction over the voting process.
It was a challenging and exhausting task to remain vigilant throughout the day and keep checking, with a smiling face, (without proper food, rest and even drinking water sometimes) thousands of voters entering the polling stations. I remained in uniform on duty for around 23 hours continuously, running around looking after the security and fair conduct of voting process in 28 booths in the vicinity, continuously talking, guiding people, trying to win hearts and minds of the community and then in smooth, safe and secure conduct of counting of votes as well as compilation of results in a transparent manner (staying within the bounds set by ECP and strict instructions of GHQ).
Following factors boosted our energies:
• A lot of voters including old ladies, men and youth came to me and thanked Pakistan Army for providing them a fair, free and caring environment which they had never found earlier on election day at those stations. They had never been allowed in those polling stations to vote as per their will and wish.
• Many said that they were always full of fear on election day and there had always been clashes and skirmishes between gangs on election day at that station. On that day they felt safe and secure.
• Whenever they said Pakistan Zindabad, Pakistan Army Paindabad, I forgot that I was tired or I needed to sit down for some time.
• Many of them said that they never knew that our Army is so professional and caring.
• An old lady said, “We are Muhajirs, Urdu is our language and MQM was our Pehchan (identity) but Pakistan and Pakistan Army is above all for us. We need change; we have lost so many sons in street crimes and gang wars; we are tired of that painful culture; we look towards our Army to help the nation in bringing peace”. I just replied, “Maa Ji! Army is yours and Muhajirs, MQM and all other parties are equally respectable for Army. We are here for security and to help in establishing peace in our country.”
• Some people came and said that they had come especially from abroad to cast votes for a better future and to bring change in our country.
• Many children brought flowers for us, a young girl brought her diary to get an autograph. A young boy came and said that he could not cast vote as he was just 17 years old but he had come just to meet us and say Pakistan Army Zindabad. Another young boy came and said that his father was a retired SHO and he himself loved and wanted to join Pakistan Army.
• A boy brought tea from a local hotel in a polythene bag for us, which I didn’t want to take but to show respect for his feelings/love I took tea on the condition that he would receive the payment.
My soldiers had performed very tough and demanding duty so late at night when all the fellow policemen (having performed equally tough duty with us during the day) had gone to sleep, I told some of my soldiers whom I could spare to take rest but being the only officer incharge, I didn’t sleep even for a single minute on the night between July 25/26, 2018. I was alone sitting at the gate with a weapon in hand when few people came at the gate and tried to create a ruckus on the grounds of not having been provided Form 45 to their polling agents. My soldiers came to know about it on hearing me talking to them and the loyal soldiers got up again, picked up their weapons and joined me at the gate. After the counting of the votes, most of the polling agents (especially those whose parties lost/got less votes) had requested us to allow them to go to their homes before preparation of Form 45 and completion of process. I requested the presiding officers to get their written statements/signatures and allow them to go if they had no objection. Few of the presiding officers allowed the polling agents to go but two of them did not allow anyone to leave before completion of entire process. Later, I found that some of the politicians/party workers, on seeing their defeat, played negative role and raised the issue of Form 45 but it was easily resolved when we showed them their statements, cooperated with them and allowed them again to witness the process till the end.
Entire staff of ECP was also happy with our behaviour and fair conduct on that day and night, and went back from their duties with a lot more respect for Pakistan Army. It was surprising for me and polling agents of MQM, PSP and MMA that most of their community had silently voted for change and PTI won the election.
My energies remained perfectly fresh till 0600 hours on July 26, 2018 when I reached home and removed my boots, found my feet injured due to 23 hours of hectic duty. Entirely satisfied for having done my duties faithfully, with some feeling of tiredness I went to sleep.
This is how I and all the officers and soldiers of Pakistan Army performed their duties on that day. Having done the job so conscientiously and professionally, it is disheartening for soldiers to listen to the quibbles and slanders of rigging by the losing candidates.
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