Balochistan blasts

Published February 8, 2024

THE prologue to today’s national polls has been a blood-soaked one. Yesterday, just a day before people were to cast their votes to elect the next government, two deadly blasts rocked Balochistan, causing almost 30 fatalities. In the first incident, a blast occurred outside an independent candidate’s election office in Pishin; the second targeted a JUI-F election office in Qila Abdullah. Both towns are located in Balochistan’s Pakhtun belt. In fact, Balochistan and KP have been hit the hardest by terrorist violence, which picked up pace as the polls drew nearer. Several actors are involved in militancy, including religiously inspired groups such as the banned TTP and its offshoots, and Baloch separatist outfits. On Monday, 10 police personnel were martyred when militants struck a police station in KP’s Dera Ismail Khan. Balochistan, meanwhile, has been rocked by dozens of grenade attacks across the province, targeting candidates and their supporters. Pakistan had already been dealing with a fresh wave of militancy, and poll-related violence has only worsened the precarious security situation. At one time, rumours were circulating that the polls might be put off, at least in the militancy-hit areas, as candidates were killed and political activities targeted. That did not come to pass, though the administration’s crucial test remains today: to ensure violence-free polls.

While extremist groups have no truck with democracy, Baloch separatist outfits are doing the people of Balochistan no service by forcefully denying them the right to peacefully choose their representatives. It is essential that countrywide, candidates are able to campaign in a peaceful atmosphere, and people are able to cast their ballots without the fear of violence on polling day. While in past decades, violence occurred mostly between supporters of different parties, since at least the 2008 election cycle it has been militancy that has been playing a spoiler in the democratic process. Unfortunately, even this time around, while the caretaker administration has been more than active in areas beyond its brief, it has largely failed to perform one of its core tasks: ensuring a peaceful pre-poll atmosphere. The interim Balochistan chief minister has urged people not to be scared and to come out and vote today. That should be the message echoing loud and clear from the entire administrative set-up, assuring the people of Pakistan of a violence-free election day.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2024

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