ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's military announced on Tuesday that it would deploy more than 371,000 members of the country's security forces to polling stations to ensure free, fair and transparent national elections on July 25.
That is more than five times the number of troops deployed during the last elections in 2013, when the security situation across the country was much worse.
The army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said the request for 371,388 troops — nearly a third of the total armed forces — came from the country's elections oversight body to ensure order during the vote.
He said the troops would provide security at 85,000 polling stations and carry out other elections-related duties. As many as 134,894 of the troops have been called up from retirement since serving members could not have been spared in such huge numbers, Ghafoor said.
Ghafoor told reporters the military would not be directly involved in the voting and insisted it neither backed nor opposed any political party or politician.
"People should vote for the candidate of their choice, without any fear," he added. "Our loyalty is only with Pakistan."
The army and its intelligence agency have been accused by international and Pakistani advocacy groups of intimidating media outlets in an attempt to stifle criticism of the military, accused by some of seeking to play a dominant role in the country's politics.
The military has ruled Pakistan directly and indirectly for most of its 71-year history.
Ghafoor's also dismissed allegations raised on Tuesday by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who accused the Pakistani spy agency of pressuring one of his ruling party's candidates to change political loyalties. Sharif was ousted from office by the country's Supreme Court last July and was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison on corruption charges. He plans to appeal the sentence.
Previously, the military removed Sharif from office in 1999, when Gen. Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup. Musharraf was later forced to resign in 2008, when former President Asif Ali Zardari came into power.
Analysts say Pakistan will likely have a coalition government after the elections, as no single political party is expected to get a two-thirds majority in parliament. Any party that gets a simple majority can form the government.