Today’s (February 8) general elections in Pakistan have seen significant disruptions in Balochistan, characterized by a series of armed attacks on polling stations, a marked public rejection of the electoral process, and notably low voter turnout reported up until the afternoon hours.
- Series of Explosions Across Polling Stations
The election day began under a cloud of tension, with two major explosions disrupting a polling station in Kech district just minutes into the voting process. This led to an immediate suspension of polling activities there.
Similar patterns were observed in Turbat city and the Buleda area, extending to Dannuk, approximately 10 kilometers west of Turbat, where yet another blast was reported.
Additional explosions were reported in Absar, approximately 7 kilometers east of Turbat city. Early morning blasts also rocked the Gomazi area of Tump tehsil, Buleda, Gokdan, and Dannuk.
The coastal regions, including Gwadar, Jiwani, and Pasini, also witnessed bombings near polling stations. Notably, in Gwadar, 14 explosions occurred near polling stations and the vehicle of the Assistant Commissioner, injuring two officials. These incidents unfolded across various areas of Gwadar, heightening the security concerns in the coastal city.
Police officials indicated that the polling process continued despite the explosions in Gwadar. However, local residents reported that the polling stations became deserted following the blasts.
The unrest further escalated with attacks on Levies personnel in Kharan and Kech, resulting in the deaths of two officials. In Zamuran, Kech, militants targeted a polling station, destroying ballot papers and electoral materials. Panjgur saw similar sabotage with grenade attacks injuring two individuals at a polling station, contributing to delays or outright cancellations of voting in several areas.
- Public Protests and Boycotts
Amidst the backdrop of armed activities, a significant portion of Balochistan’s populace demonstrated a stark rejection of the electoral process through protests and boycotts as reports received until the afternoon hours by The Balochistan Post.
In Heronk, an area in the Kech district, a notable protest unfolded as women congregated in front of a polling station, vocalizing their dissent with slogans equating participation in the election with terrorism, reflecting a broader sentiment of opposition to the electoral process in Balochistan. The situation escalated when security forces reportedly used force in an attempt to disperse the protesters, highlighting the friction between the local populace and authorities.
Similarly, dramatic scenes unfolded in Goburd, Mand, as Baloch women and children chanted “Yeh Wardi Wale, Deshatgard” (These Uniformed Ones, Terrorists), right in front of Pakistani military vehicles. The Pakistani military personnel made victory signs at the end of the video. The election process has been discontinued in the area.
This display of dissent was mirrored across various other areas, including Kech, Gwadar, and Kharan districts, where local protesters disrupted the election process and clashed with “death squad” members contesting elections.
In areas like Tehsil Mand in Kech district and Tehsil Hoshab, polling stations remained deserted, with no polling staff or voters present, reflecting widespread calls for boycotting the elections advocated by various nationalist groups.
According to latest reports, very low turnout was observed in Baloch majority areas of Balochistan. The Election Commissioner of Balochistan has released multiple statements urging the public to cast their votes.
- Communication Blackouts and Security Measures
Compounding the day’s challenges, internet services were cut in key districts, including Quetta, Gwadar, and Kharan, disrupting communication and casting doubts on the electoral process’s transparency.
Despite the Information Minister’s assurances of security, the election lead-up saw over 125 incidents targeting the election campaigns, with BRAS, a coalition of ‘pro-independence’ groups, claiming responsibility for 112 attacks in just ten days before the election day.
Today’s events in Balochistan, marked by public protests, armed attacks, and a clear rejection of the electoral process in Baloch majority areas of Balochistan, highlight the challenges of conducting elections in a region fraught with political unrest and security concerns. The widespread disruptions and the Baloch populace’s response indicate a significant divide between the electoral aspirations of the state and the sentiments of the local population.