As Pakistan holds a milestone — and likely volatile — election on May 11, aid groups take care not to get caught in the crossfire.
Pakistan’s parliamentary government concluded a full five-year term in March, a first for the South Asian country previously ran by a succession of four military dictators. On May 11, another milestone will be reached when 40 million new voters will participate in the poll.
This has led to animosity between opposing parties and attacks from the anti-democratic Pakistani Taliban, a group linked to more than 100 campaign deaths and the killings of aid workers, including shootings of polio vaccine workers and the beheading of a Red Cross staff.
The days running up to the election saw growing danger among the development community. The Association of Women for Awareness & Motivation, a Pakistani nongovernmental organization promoting voter awareness, this week reported receiving threats of “terrible consequences” from a member of the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
URDO, another group endorsing “free and fair elections” in the country, has ensured the protection of its staff as they prepare to monitor the conduct of the poll at various polling stations throughout Pakistan.
“Yes there are a lot of challenges, however we have deployed our domestic observers and trained them well for the day of [the] election,” URDO Executive Director Zaheer Khattak said in an interview with Devex.
Ahead of the vote, a number of aid groups have also closed shop.
Sajida Mansoor, communications manager for World Vision in Pakistan, told Devex that “like all other international aid organizations working in Pakistan,” the organization has temporarily suspended its field operations and will resume after the elections.
“World Vision has also taken general security measures during these elections,” she said. “World Vision has been in close contact with the security forces and the government for updates on the situation and will act according to the developing situation.”
The Red Cross in Pakistan will also suspend its operations on the day of the election, according to Ghulam Muhammad Awan, director of operations for the Pakistan Red Crescent Society.
Meanwhile, polio vaccinations in Pakistan’s Swabi district have stalled while new polio cases surfaced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwathe, as Support With Working Solution stops its field activities due to “high risk” in the weeks leading up to May 11, said SWWSCEO Javed Akhter.
Oxfam Pakistan has taken similar steps by bolstering the safety of its staff, as they help victims of the recent earthquake that hit the country.
“Security is a challenge during the upcoming elections, [so] we have developed a detailed Election Security Contingency Plan and the situation is being monitored closely,” said Huzan Waqar, communications manager at Oxfam Pakistan.
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