By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan will deploy the army to ensure peace at its general election next month, the prime minister’s office said, amid concerns that recent attacks by Islamist militants could threaten the holding of the Feb. 8 polls.
The military’s deployment at the polling stations has been controversial in the past, with several political leaders alleging the army uses troops to help its favourite party rather than provide security, a charge the army denies.
The cabinet chaired by caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar approved the deployment of army and paramilitary troops to ensure a peaceful election, a statement by Kakar’s office said, adding, “These contingents will perform duty at polling stations and in sensitive areas.”
An uptick in attacks by militants who aim to overthrow the government and install their own brand of strict Islamic law has underscored worries among political leaders that such violence could threaten the peaceful holding of the polls.
Pakistan’s last election in 2018, which brought former prime minister Imran Khan to power, saw hundreds of thousands of troops deployed across the country to provide security.
Khan’s opponents and several analysts alleged that vote rigging helped by the troops contributed to his victory, which the military denied.
Khan is now in jail after falling out with the generals and his party faces what analysts consider a military-backed crackdown.
Analysts believe the powerful military has thrown its backing behind Sharif for the vote following a standoff with Khan, giving the former an edge in a country where army generals exert undue influence over setting up governments.
The military denies the accusations, and says it remains apolitical.
The party that wins the Feb. 8 election faces the task of reviving a struggling $350-billion economy grappling with historic inflation and an unstable rupee currency that limits growth and job opportunities for the young.
The South Asian nation received a $3-billion loan programme from the IMF in July that averted a sovereign debt default in a standby arrangement set to expire this spring.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad, Editing by William Maclean)