ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi clarified this week that the government has not yet issued any instructions to suspend mobile or Internet services in the country on polling day, state media reported on Tuesday, amid a surge in pre-election violence in the country as it gears up for polls on Feb. 8.
Pakistani authorities have suspended mobile and Internet services in the past due to security reasons. In the wake of public gatherings, protests, and political events, Pakistani governments over the years have suspended communication services to ensure public safety and deter militants from coordinating to carry out subversive activities.
As Pakistan faces increasing incidents of pre-election violence, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and in southwestern Balochistan, provincial information minister Jan Achakzai said on Sunday that the government would restrict Internet access in the lead-up to elections in Turbat, Mach, and Chaman areas of Balochistan.
“The Minister said there has been no instruction from the government so far to suspend mobile or Internet service on the polling day,” the state-run Radio Pakistan said.
“He said if any law-and-order situation arises anywhere in the country on polling day, the local administration will take decision accordingly,” it added.
Solangi urged people to “judiciously” exercise their right to vote, saying that the exercise shows people’s patriotism and their love for democratic continuity in the country.
The information minister and central government in Islamabad have repeatedly said polls would be held as per schedule on Feb. 8 despite security challenges.
The South Asian country of over 240 million people will head to the polls on Thursday amid overlapping security, economic and political crises. The upcoming polls in Pakistan have also been marred by allegations of pre-poll rigging, mainly by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
Khan, who has been in jail on graft charges since August and was sentenced in multiple cases last week, says the campaign against him is an attempt by the caretaker government and the military to keep him from returning to power after analysts say he fell out with the generals that led to his ouster in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April 2022.
The military denies the allegation, while the caretaker government overseeing the polls says it has no favorites.
A new elected government would also have to deal with an economic crisis that has seen Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves deplete, its national currency plummet against the US dollar, and inflation to reach new highs.