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Pakistan votes as militant attacks surge and Imran’s party cries foul

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station during Pakistan’s national elections in Islamabad on February 8, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AFP

Pakistanis braved cold winter weather and sporadic violence to vote for a new Parliament on Thursday, a day after twin bombings claimed at least 30 lives in the worst election-related violence ahead of the balloting.

Tens of thousands of security forces were deployed at polling stations and authorities suspended mobile phone services across the country to prevent disruptions and flash protests. Pakistan’s Interior Ministry said the decision was made to maintain law and order. It did not say when the suspension would be lifted.

There were a handful of attacks that appeared aimed at disrupting the vote. In the northwestern district of Dera Ismail Khan, gunmen set off a bomb and then opened fire at a police van, killing five officers and wounding two others, local police officials said. The officers were assigned to security duty during the elections.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack but the area is a former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban who often target police forces.

Attack on troops

Also in the northwest, gunmen fired on troops in the town of Kot Azam, killing a soldier, a police official said. Again, no one immediately claimed responsibility for that attack.

Unidentified assailants threw hand grenades at two polling stations in restive southwestern Baluchistan province, where twin bombings hit separate election offices on Wednesday, killing at least 30 people. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both bombings.

The election has also been marred by allegations from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan that its candidates were denied a fair chance at campaigning.

Mr. Khan’s party called the suspension of the mobile phone services “a severe assault on democracy” and a “cowardly attempt by those in power to stifle dissent, manipulate the election’s outcome, and infringe upon the rights of the Pakistani people.”

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