QUETTA: The government in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan has declared 80 percent of polling stations in the province “sensitive” and “highly sensitive” amid a rise in pre-election violence, an official confirmed on Monday, three days before millions are expected to vote in national elections.
Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by land but most underdeveloped by nearly all socio-economic indicators, has seen a rise in violence ahead of elections on Feb. 8, with over two dozens attacks recorded in the last week.
This included a blast at a rally led by former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in Sibi city on Jan. 30. On Feb. 4, a grenade attack was launched on the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) office in Nushki district while in a separate assault, unidentified gunmen attacked the station of the paramilitary Levies force in the mountainous Bolan region. No casualties were reported.
The Pakistan military killed 24 militants in a days-long operation that began on Jan. 29 when armed militants carried out coordinated attacks in Mach and Kolpur cities in Balochistan.
The province has for decades been the scene of a low-lying insurgency by ethnic Baloch militants fighting for independence from the Pakistani state.
“There are 5,028 polling stations in Balochistan, among which 34 percent of polling booths are ‘very sensitive’, 46 percent are ‘sensitive’ and 19 percent of the polling stations are ‘normal’,” Balochistan’s caretaker home minister, Muhammad Zubair Jamali, told Arab News.
On Sunday, Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai announced a ban on public gatherings and election meetings in the provincial capital of Quetta in response to a threat alert involving a female suicide bomber. Achakzai also said the government would restrict Internet access in sensitive areas of the province.
The central government in Islamabad has repeatedly said polls would be held as per schedule on Feb. 8 despite security challenges.
Security expert Dr. Safdar Sial, who is also a researcher at the Pakistan Institute of Peace studies (PIPS), said maintaining security ahead of polls was proving to be “challenging” for the Balochistan government.
“Attacks by Baloch insurgents are largely low scale with occasional major attacks, such as the one that was witnessed in Mach,” Sial told Arab News.
“Baloch insurgents usually employ firing and grenades with hit-and-run tactics, but such attacks can be prevented by better vigilance and security deployment.”