Pakistan ramps up security arrangements for Muharram

By javed Khan

Rangers stand guard on September 1 outside a Shia mosque in Karachi. [Zia Ur Rehman]

Rangers stand guard on September 1 outside a Shia mosque in Karachi. [Zia Ur Rehman]

PESHAWAR -- Pakistani forces have stepped up security arrangements throughout the country for the peaceful observance of the holy month of Muharram, which began September 1.

In addition to the police, the Frontier Constabulary and Frontier Corps will be operating in sensitive districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) to maintain law and order. Rangers will assist police in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and other parts of the country.

"A comprehensive security plan has been devised for the peaceful observance of Muharram in Peshawar and the rest of the province," said Kamran Khan Bangash, special assistant on information technology to KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan.

Bangash made his remarks to the leaders of the Muharram Committee and the Imamia Jirga during a meeting in Peshawar on August 28.

Police have orders to ensure the security of worship places and religious gatherings during the holy month, he said.

KP Police Chief Muhammad Naeem Khan chaired high level meetings in Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan during the last week of August to discuss the final touches to security arrangements for Ashura. All the Regional Police Officers (RPOs) and District Police Officers (DPOs) have orders to personally inspect the routes before the processions.

"Apart from police and law enforcement agencies, religious scholars, elders of society and the public can play a key role in maintaining law and order during the holy month," Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Zahoor Babar Afridi said in an interview.

Peshawar is among the districts that authorities have declared sensitive. They have drawn up a comprehensive plan to ensure that no untoward incident happens during processions and Muharram mahafils.

"As per the security plan, around 10,000 policemen will be deployed in Peshawar to maintain law and order and ensure peace during the Ashura Muharram," said Ilyas Khan, a spokesman for the Peshawar police.

Police have enhanced security around 61 imambargahs in the provincial capital, he said, adding that police will be present along the routes and on the rooftops of buildings of processions.

Cellular phone services will remain suspended on the 9th and 10th of Muharram, he added.

"Apart from regular police, policemen in plainclothes, policewomen and members of the KP Bomb Disposal Unit [BDU] will be deployed in the inner city to keep a check on any suspicious movement," said Superintendent of Police (SP) City Atiq Shah.

The BDU and its sniffer dogs will sweep each procession route four times, he said.

"Three-layer security has been arranged in the inner city so nothing untoward happens during the holy month," said Shah. The Quick Response Force, Elite Force, City Patrolling Police and all other forces will perform their duties alongside regular police during Ashura.

"We are checking the data of those living in guesthouses, hotels and inns and have strengthened entry and exit points to and from the city," he said.

Drone cameras will perform aerial surveillance of the processions during Ashura, he added.

Punjab remains alert

Meanwhile, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on September 1 presided over a high-level meeting of police, Rangers and other forces in connection with security arrangements for Muharram.

The Sindh government, through a notification on August 23, imposed a ban on pillion riding (shared motorcycle riding) and the brandishing of weapons on the 9th and 10th of Muharram. Law enforcement officers, journalists, women and children are exempt from the ban on pillion riding, which is meant to prevent drive-by shootings.

In Punjab, senior police officers have orders to personally review the security arrangements for the processions.

"Apart from ensuring fool-proof security, no stranger should be allowed to be close to processions and imambargahs during Muharram," Capital City Police Officer Lahore Ashfaq Khan told officers during a meeting.

"The teams of Rescue 1122 will remain alert all over KP to respond in case of any emergency during Muharram," Bilal Ahmad Faizi, a spokesman for Rescue 1122, told Pakistan Forward.

Ambulances of Rescue 1122 as well as technicians, firefighters and other emergency personnel will be on duty around the clock, he said.

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