Pakistan elections: Borders with Iran and Afghanistan closed

Pakistan closed its borders with Iran and Afghanistan yesterday to ensure security as the nation prepares for polls today. Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, spokesperson for the Foreign Office, stated that border crossings with Afghanistan and Iran would remain closed for cargo and pedestrians during the general elections scheduled for February 8, 2024. Normal operations would resume on February 9, 2024.

In a separate statement, the Foreign Office affirmed Pakistan’s commitment to promoting an inclusive democratic process, upholding the rule of law, and safeguarding human rights and fundamental freedoms as guaranteed by its laws and constitution.

It also responded to the comments from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the Pakistan elections. The spokesperson, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, stated that the country had finalized security plans under Pakistan’s electoral laws. She emphasized that the judicial system ensures fair trials and due process, with domestic legal remedies available to address any complaints during the electoral process.

As Pakistan proceeded toward general elections, it witnessed a rise in terrorist attacks across the territory. Pakistan has been blaming Afghanistan for providing safe havens to terrorists operating against it. Later, there was bad blood between Pakistan and Iran when Iran conducted missile strikes on Pakistan’s territory, claiming to target terrorists. The situation further worsened when Pakistan responded with retaliatory strikes.

Frequency of Attacks

During the initial 11 months of 2023, Pakistan experienced 664 attacks of various magnitudes and types across the nation. It marked a 67 percent increase compared to 2022, as reported by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS).

The majority of these attacks were concentrated in two provinces: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the northwest and Balochistan in the southwest. Approximately 93 percent of the total attacks occurred in these regions. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa suffered most from these attacks. It recorded 416 attacks since November 2022, when the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terminated the ceasefire with the government.

While the ideology of the Pakistan Taliban aligns with Afghan Taliban, these groups have distinct objectives and operate autonomously.

Where Pakistan Went Wrong?

According to numerous counterterrorism analysts and observers of regional violence, a significant deficiency in the Pakistani government’s approach was its failure to craft a “coherent and comprehensive” policy toward Afghanistan. This lapse has contributed to the present circumstances.

  • Afghanistan

The strategy of the Pakistani military rested on “assumptions and optimism”. It was regarding its ability to restrain TTP from conducting attacks within Pakistan following the Taliban’s seizure of Kabul. However, this approach has proven flawed.

Primarily, owing to counterproductive policies vis-à-vis Afghanistan and the inability to bolster counterterrorism capabilities, the government found itself ill-prepared for the current confrontation. While Pakistan invested considerable time in pursuing peace talks, it lacked proactive measures to neutralize the threat. With the termination of the ceasefire, Pakistan finds itself in a reactive stance, primarily focused on damage control.

  • Iran

Regarding Pakistan’s conflict with Iran, the Iranian calculation seemed rather complex. It appeared that Iran had overplayed its hand. It was expecting Pakistan to absorb the strike and demonstrate restraint, or at most, issue a verbal protest. This situation left Pakistan with no option but to retaliate in kind, thereby drawing a red line against unilateral Iranian strikes on its sovereign territory.

However, later on, both nations reached an agreement to de-escalate tensions after reciprocal military strikes on each other’s territory. However, this episode underscored a persistent lack of trust between the neighboring countries. It is a dynamic anticipated to persist in their relations even as the hostilities and allegations recede.