Pakistanis Face Communication Blackout on Election Day Amid Security Fears

Pakistanis went to the polls on Thursday to elect a new parliament amid a nationwide communication blackout imposed by the government for security reasons.

The Interior Ministry confirmed that internet and mobile phone services were temporarily stopped in major cities, including Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Karachi, citing a recent wave of terrorist attacks that killed dozens of people.

The ministry said in a statement that the suspension of communication services was necessary to “safeguard against” security threats and to ensure a peaceful and transparent election.

However, the move caused inconvenience and confusion for millions of voters, who faced difficulties in locating their polling stations and verifying their voter registration. Many also complained that they were unable to contact their relatives and friends or access information about the candidates and parties.

The communication blackout also raised concerns about the transparency and credibility of the election, as it hampered the monitoring and reporting of the voting process by independent observers, media and civil society groups.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had assured the public on Wednesday that there would be no disruption of internet and mobile phone services on election day, and that it would provide seamless connectivity for the electorate and the public.

However, the PTA changed its stance on Thursday morning, saying that it was following the instructions of the Interior Ministry and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to suspend the services.

The ECP said that it had not issued any such directive, and that it was unaware of the reasons behind the decision.

The communication blackout came a day after two bomb blasts rocked Balochistan province, killing at least 31 people, including three candidates. The attacks were claimed by the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which have vowed to disrupt the election.

The election is widely seen as a crucial test for Pakistan’s democracy, as it marks the third consecutive transfer of power from one civilian government to another. However, the election campaign has been marred by allegations of military interference, judicial activism and political repression, especially against the former ruling party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan.

The main contenders in the election are the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was cleared of corruption charges and returned from exile just before the election; the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The counting of votes will begin soon after the polling ends at 5 pm local time, and tentative results are expected to emerge within a few hours.

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