Pakistan temporarily suspended mobile phone service across the country on Thursday and blocked certain land crossings to maintain law and order as voting began in a national election preceded by an increase in militant violence.
In the most recent incident, 26 people were killed in two bombs outside electoral candidates’ offices in the southwestern region of Balochistan on Wednesday. Islamic State later claimed responsibility.
The election is also being held in the midst of a deep economic crisis and in a highly polarised political environment, and many analysts believe no clear winner may emerge.
Thousands of troops have been deployed at polling stations across the country and borders with Iran and Afghanistan were temporarily closed to facilitate a peaceful election.
The move to suspend mobile networks sparked criticism from leaders of opposition parties, with the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of former premier Benazir Bhutto, calling for its “immediate restoration”.
The network suspension also follows Imran Khan’s call to his supporters, who had clashed with security forces while protesting his arrest last year, to wait outside polling booths until results are announced.
If the election does not result in a clear majority for anyone, as analysts are predicting, tackling multiple challenges will be tricky – foremost being seeking a new bailout programme from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after the current one expires in March.