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SC begins hearing, defence ministry plea to recall, Punjab polls order

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The Supreme Court (SC) has started hearing the defence ministry’s plea requesting the court to recall its orders regarding elections in Punjab on May 14.

The apex court was scheduled to hear the application at 11:30 am today, however, the hearing commenced at 2 pm.

Earlier, a three-judge bench — led by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Bandial and comprising Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Ijazul Ahsan— on April 4 declared as “unconstitutional” the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision to postpone elections for the Punjab Assembly and ordered it to hold polls in the province on May 14.

The same bench had on April 14 ordered the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to release Rs21 billion to the ECP for holding elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and send an “appropriate communication” to this effect to the finance ministry by Monday (April 17).

Together with its report, however, the defence ministry had yesterday (Tuesday) moved a civil miscellaneous application in the court, requesting it to recall its April 4 order.

“The order dated 04-04-2023 be recalled with the directions that the general elections to the National and all Provincial Assemblies be held together, upon completion of the term of the National and the other two Provincial Assemblies Sindh and Balochistan,” it said.

“Due to the prevalent security situation and counter-terrorist operations being carried out in the K-P and Balochistan, as well as the intelligence-based operations in Punjab and Sindh, the Armed Forces, Rangers, Frontier Constabulary, and other forces are not logistically available to be repositioned and reposted for providing election security, twice in a span of 6 months.

“Significant time is required to prepare the members of the Armed Forces for election duty, given much of the force has been actively engaged in operations, for a considerable period of time.

“The security situation in Punjab and Sindh has been stable in light of the efforts of the ongoing operations in the K-P and Balochistan, respectively. Therefore, any diversion of troops from the K-P and Balochistan will result in directly affecting the security situation in Punjab and Sindh.”

The defence ministry also said that it had reasons to believe that India’s top spy agency has planned to exploit fault lines of the country to hurt the federation of Pakistan if elections at the Punjab Assembly are held prior to elections for the national legislature and other provincial assemblies.

“The RAW [Research and Analysis Wing] identified fault lines to hurt the federation of Pakistan especially [by fanning] ethnic issues, water disputes, [the alleged] resource capture and monopoly of Punjab and as terrorists say in Balochistan, the colonisation by Punjab.

“Therefore, holding of general elections of Punjab Assembly would fuel the situation,” the ministry said in the report submitted to the apex court on Tuesday.

Notably, top officials of the country’s military had also met with CJP Bandial and the other two apex court judges who were also on the bench deciding the Punjab polls issue.

Sources had revealed to The Express Tribune that the meeting between the judges and themilitary officials continued for over three hours in the CJP’s chamber. They said the intelligence official gave a briefing to the judges on the security issues confronting the country.

Meanwhile, the ECP had expressed its own reservations over the provision of Punjab Assembly elections on May 14, warning that “anarchy and chaos” can break out in the country if its itinerary for polls is not followed.

Yesterday, alongside the electoral watchdog, the Ministry of Finance and the central bank (SBP) also submitted their reports informing the court of the non-release of funds for the provision of the election in spite of court orders.

It may be noted that the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue returned matters concerning funds for elections to the government on Monday (yesterday).

Funds were allocated by the SBP in compliance with court orders, only for the matter to be sent to the federal cabinet which later placed it before the National Assembly.

On the same day, the lower house rejected the government’s motion to grant Rs21 billion to the federal government to meet the expenditure, other than charged, during the financial year ending June 30, 2023, in respect of the ECP.

In the backdrop of the ongoing conflict within the SC as well as a possible clash with Parliament, all eyes are on CJ Bandial as to how he, along with his like-minded judges, will ensure compliance with the judicial order to hold Punjab Assembly elections on May 14.

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