Pakistan’s military has “no direct role” in nationwide elections due July 25, the Army spokesman said on Tuesday, after widespread allegations it is pressuring media and the ruling party in a bid to manipulate the polls.
Instead the military, which is the most powerful institution in the country and has ruled it for roughly half its 70-year history, will deploy more than 370,000 soldiers on polling day to help ensure the vote goes smoothly, Major General Asif Ghafoor said.
“The Pakistan armed forces have no direct role,” he told a press conference at Army headquarters in Rawalpindi, adding: “Let me make it clear, that we have no direct role.”
He further denied involvement in the political process by either the Army or its intelligence agencies.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has entrusted the Army with the task of conducting the vote “in a free, fair and transparent manner,” he said, adding that as many as “371,388” Army personnel will help in the process.
Ghafoor spoke after the military has been widely accused by the media, analysts, rights activists and formerly ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party politicians of using pressure and intimidation in what one think tank called a “silent coup” against the PMLN.
Much of the tension centers around the stand-off between former PMLN prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the military. Sharif, who at times appeared to seek a better relationship with India, was ousted by the Supreme Court last year following corruption charges and banned from politics for life.
He has since repeatedly accused the military and judiciary of wanton political interference, and has said that intelligence agencies are pressuring his candidates to change their loyalties.
Last week Sharif, who is in London as his wife receives cancer treatment, was given a 10-year jail sentence in absentia over corruption. He has vowed to return to Pakistan on Friday. Though he cannot hold office, Sharif remains a hugely powerful talisman for the PMLN, and his return could boost his party’s troubled campaign, now led by his brother Shahbaz—even if he is arrested and jailed.
The PMLN faces a challenge from cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party is seen as receiving the biggest boost from any attempt to manipulate the vote against the ruling party.
Ghafoor also refuted rumors the elections could yet be postponed, vowing it was up to the people of Pakistan to vote for their leaders. “We will accept anyone elected by the people as their prime minister. He can be anybody,” he said.