The Pakistan Army said today it will have "no direct role" in the electoral process, as it announced to deploy more than 3,71,000 troops to polling stations across the country to ensure free, fair and transparent general elections on July 25.
"The armed forces are not directly involved in conducting the election," Army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor told reporters, apparently rejecting allegations it is pressuring media and the government in a bid to manipulate the polls.
He said the armed forces will "only support the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in the tasks they have sought our help with".
"We have to help the ECP in a non-political, non-partisan manner," Maj Gen Ghafoor was quoted as saying by the Geo TV.
The powerful army, which enjoys considerable influence over policy decisions in Pakistan, has ruled the country for much of its life since it gained independence 70 years ago.
"I am constantly asked whether elections will be held or not but Pakistan is headed towards the general election and this is the third election which will ensure the democratic process," Maj Gen Ghafoor said.
Stating that "3,71,000 personnel will be deployed on election day with two soldiers inside each polling station and two outside," the spokesman said this is not the first time that troops will be deployed to overlook the election process.
The number is nearly five times than that of the troops deployed in the 2013 elections, when attacks by the militant groups were far more common.
"The armed forces have rendered services during previous elections as well," he said, adding that a total 20,831 polling stations have been declared sensitive.
Regarding overlooking the process of the printing of ballot papers, he maintained, "We only have to transport the ballot papers in a secure manner and will not be involved in anything else."
"We will not take over the printing material, the ECP staff will handle that," Maj Gen Ghafoor clarified.
He, however, said that troops will remain deployed at printing presses to ensure no ballot papers are printed after.
In Rawalpindi, an army election support centre, headed by a three-star general, has been established to coordinate and if needed communicate with ECP, he said.
Maj Gen Ghafoor said that the ECP has issued a code of conduct for the military. "We are bound to implement a code of conduct issued by the ECP when executing our duties," he said.
"Our top priority is to maintain peace and security in the country," he said.
"We do not have any political party or alignment and are working only for the country," he said, amid accusation by the media, analysts and ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party of using pressure and intimidation to 'influence' the polls.
Answering a question regarding ISI's Maj Gen Faiz Hamid's role in matters outside his domain, the army spokesperson dismissed the impression, stating that Maj Gen Hamid has played an important role in combating terrorism and his detractors do not understand the scope of his post, the channel reported.
"Neither me nor our field commanders give their opinions on a daily basis but talk shows are held everyday from 7:00 pm onwards where people share their opinions and say whatever they wish," he said.
"Armed forces have a credibility and we cannot give a wrong order to a soldier risking his life for the nation," he said, while rejecting that the military is attempting to 'influence' the election.
"Please stop looking at everything with suspicion," he asserted.
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