Pakistan implemented a temporary shutdown of mobile phone services nationwide on Thursday and imposed border closures amidst the commencement of national elections, aiming to uphold law and order amid a surge in militant violence leading up to the polls.
Recent deadly attacks near electoral candidates' offices in Balochistan, resulting in 26 fatalities and claimed by Islamic State, heightened security concerns. The ongoing election unfolds against a backdrop of economic turmoil and political polarization, with many analysts foreseeing a potential absence of a clear victor.
Significant troop deployments at polling stations and the temporary closure of borders with Iran and Afghanistan were enacted to ensure a peaceful electoral process. The Interior Ministry underscored the necessity of security measures in response to recent terrorism incidents, defending the move to suspend mobile networks.
However, opposition leaders, including Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party, criticized the suspension, urging its immediate restoration. The Chief Election Commissioner clarified that the decision was made by law enforcement agencies in response to the violence and emphasized the Election Commission's non-involvement in the matter.
Amidst the disruptions, Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party called for public cooperation, urging individuals to remove passwords from personal WiFi networks to facilitate internet access on election day. Nevertheless, some voters expressed frustration over the suspension's impact on communication.
Despite heightened security measures, incidents of violence persisted, with reports of attacks on security forces in northwestern areas and grenade incidents in Balochistan. Imran Khan, currently incarcerated, exercised his voting rights via postal ballot, while unofficial election results are expected post-closure of voting.
The main electoral contest is anticipated between candidates aligned with Khan's party and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, with Bhutto Zardari also vying for the top office. Analysts predict a potentially inconclusive outcome, underscoring the role of the influential military in shaping the political landscape.
Given the severity of economic challenges and the impending need for an IMF bailout program, navigating the country's complex issues post-election will be a formidable task for the incoming government.