Pakistan election day marred by violence, communication blackouts

By Amjad Ali

Islamabad, Feb 8 (EFE).- Several violent attacks, restrictions on communication and a sense of fear in the polling stations marred the day of general elections in Pakistan on Thursday, similar to previous elections in the country.

Voting closed at 6.00 pm (13.00 GMT) in most centers, although some schools continued to receive voters in several constituencies, which were allowed an extension of two hours.

A closure of borders and the suspension of mobile phone services were imposed throughout the day as a security measure against threats of violence.

There was a low turnout in an Islamabad electoral constituency, from where former Pakistani prime minister and opposition leader Imran Khan contested successfully in the 2018 general elections.

“Out of a total of 1,028 registered voters, only 150 cast their ballots” in the first half of the day, Azizullah Khan, president of a polling station in this constituency, told EFE.

From the outset, security threats were a determining factor in turnout, with voters in some areas considered “sensitive” or “very sensitive” to attacks not coming out to vote.

Several incidents were reported in at least two provinces of the country, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan – the two most volatile regions – despite the rollout of special security measures against the threat of violent or terrorist acts.

In KP, “four policemen were killed and two others injured when insurgents attacked a police van in the Kulachi area,” Asfand Yar of the Police Headquarters in the provincial capital of Peshawar told EFE.

In a second incident in Tank district, also in KP, an attack on security forces near an electoral college left a security officer dead, and a civilian and another officer injured, the official said.

In another attack in Balochistan province, two policemen were killed and five others injured in an explosion in Kharan district, Abdul Kaleem of the police in the provincial capital of Quetta told EFE.

No armed group has claimed responsibility for these attacks yet.

In these two provinces, three attacks were registered on the eve of election day against candidates and offices of political leaders, leaving at least 26 dead and 54 wounded.

The extremist group Islamic State claimed responsibility for two of them.

Authorities suspended mobile networks across the country “in the light of deteriorating security situation and to mitigate potential security threats.”

NetBlocks, a global internet watchdog, said on X that real-time network data showed “internet blackouts are now in effect in multiple regions of Pakistan in addition to mobile network disruptions.”

“The incident comes on election day and follows months of digital censorship targeting the political opposition.”

The nonprofit AMnesty International stressed in a statement Thursday that “the decision to suspend telecommunications and mobile internet services on an election day is a blunt attack on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

There were over 180 million Pakistanis eligible to vote to elect the 266 representatives of the National Assembly, or the Lower House of the Parliament, as well as the representatives of the provincial assemblies, thus deciding the government for the next five years.

The elections were held against the backdrop of a crackdown against former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party after he was ousted by parliament in 2022.

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