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Sectarian violence has grown in Pakistan over the past few decades, adding to the law and order worries of local administrations and police, particularly in urban centres. Advent of terrorism in the name of religion has put heavier demands on law enforcement agencies to provide protection to the Muharram Majalis and processions – and beyond.

Such a procession has morphed into a religio-legal fuss for the Islamabad police since it was first taken out in sector G-10, with the permission of local administration, in 2012. But the next year, the mandatory permission was denied in view of the worst Shia-Sunni bloodshed on the Ashura day in neighbouring Rawalpindi. The organisers, however, went ahead with the procession ─ and in 2014 too – but not without consequences.

Clashes marred the procession on both occasions and police made several arrests. The clash took place between the participants of the procession and members of the opposite sect in 2013 and 2014, with police caught between them.

This year, though, the Islamabad police put their foot down as the local administration directed them to arrest both the organisers of the procession and those who react against it, under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance (MPO).

A senior police officer said Ramna police detained six persons under section 3 (power to arrest and detain suspected persons) for four days to avoid a repeat of the clashes of previous years.

Those arrested included Tabusum Abbasi, the organiser of the annual procession, Kausar Abbas, a government officer in Grade 17 from whose residence the procession was taken out, and three other persons suspected of objecting to the procession, including a leader of the local chapter of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. They were put in Adiala jail.

This parity of three detainees from both sects reflected a desire on the part of the authorities to appear ‘politically correct’ in handing the sectarian situation.

However, despite the overnight arrests and the deployment of police at the residence of Kausar Abbas to preempt the procession, the illegal procession was taken out.

According to SHO Ramna Fayaz Ranjha, it all started with a resident of Chakwal, Tabassum Abbas, adding a procession to a vow made by the devout wife of Kausar Abbas.

Years ago, he says, she vowed she will arrange a Majlis at her residence in Block-E at G-10/3. But Tabassum added a procession to her vow some four years ago which has led to all the fuss.

Senior police officers rushed reinforcements on learning that participants were gathering at a worship place away from Kausar Abbas’s house. They were deployed at different roads to intercept the procession and prevent possible clashes with the other sect.

Accordingly, mourners were appealed not to take out the procession and avoid precipitating an ugly law and order situation. “But the some 200 people gathered there ignored our appeals and proceeded with their planned procession,” a police source said.

Police blocked their path at Sawan Road and when their demand to remove the barriers was not met, the participants of the unauthorised procession started pelting stones. “We responded by firing teargas shells, and when they became more violent with a baton charge,” the source said.

After two hours of street battle, the police encircled the trouble creators and arrested over 50 of them. The rest of the crowd was persuaded to leave peacefully in groups four or five.

All those arrested were freed later, except the 20 considered the hardcore organisers of the procession. A case has been registered against them.

A senior police officer noted that this time it was a direct clash between the police and those behind the unauthorised procession.

“Tabassum is not a resident of Islamabad, comes to the city from Chakwal only for the procession. He claims to be a journalist there but we could not verify his claim so far,” the officer said.

“As he is not a resident of Islamabad, he cannot arrange or organisze the religious procession,” SHO Ranjha told Dawn.

“We are considering putting the organiser’s name (Tabassum Abbas) in the fourth schedule of Anti-Terrorism Act to restrict his entry in Islamabad, especially during Muharram,” said a senior police officer.

In 2012, the organisers sought and were granted permission to take out the procession from Block E in G-10/3 up to a worship place in G-10/4. The next year, they again sought permission in the aftermath of the November 16, 2013, volatile Ashura. But “elders of the area” consulted by the Islamabad administration advised against because few Shias lived in the locality and a mosque of the other sect lay on the route of the procession. So the permission was denied.

But organisers discussed the rejection at an imambargah in G-9/2 on November 25, 2013, and then gathered at Ibne Sina Road and took out the mourning procession. They resisted police’s attempt to intercept them but dispersed when police used force.

A case was registered against them over taking out the illegal procession.

“Tabassum is not a resident of Islamabad, comes to the city from Chakwal only for the procession. He claims to be a journalist there but we could not verify his claim so far,” the officer said.

“As he is not a resident of Islamabad, he cannot arrange or organisze the religious procession,” SHO Ranjha told Dawn.

“We are considering putting the organiser’s name (Tabassum Abbas) in the fourth schedule of Anti-Terrorism Act to restrict his entry in Islamabad, especially during Muharram,” said a senior police officer.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2015

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