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Mobile internet suspended as Pakistan heads to polls in election mired in controversy

Thu 08 Feb 2024 | 10:23 AM
Basant Ahmed

Pakistani authorities shut mobile internet services across the country as millions headed to the polls on Thursday for an election in which old dynasties are vying for power while the country’s widely popular former leader languishes behind bars and militants ramp up deadly attacks, CNN reported. 

The much-anticipated vote, already delayed for months, comes as the country of 220 million faces mounting challenges – from economic uncertainty and frequent militant attacks, to climate catastrophes that are putting its most vulnerable at risk.

In a vivid illustration of the surging political violence in the run up to the vote, 30 people were killed in twin blasts targeting campaign offices in the country’s restive Balochistan province on Wednesday, which the Islamic State Pakistan Province militant group claimed responsibility for.

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry said Thursday it had decided to temporarily suspend mobile internet services nationwide.

As a result of the recent incidents of terrorism in the country, precious lives have been lost, security measures are essential to maintain the law and order situation and deal with possible threats,” a statement from the ministry said.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chair of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and one of the candidates for prime minister, said he has asked his party to approach the country’s Election Commission and the courts over the restrictions.

Mobile phone services must be restored immediately,” he wrote on social media platform X.

Some activists accused the authorities of censorship, saying the internet suspension was “political in nature” and not “mandated by the court.”

“Access to the internet during elections is critical as evidence of instances of rigging can be reported live by citizens on social media, and journalists can report live,” said Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist from Islamabad.

Not having internet access can create a sense of panic for voters, and discourage some from going to vote, especially women voters for whom mobility is already an impediment.”

Pakistan will also temporarily close its border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan as a security measure, according to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch.

Elsewhere, political tensions are running high amid accusations of interference by the military, which it denies.