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RAWALPINDI/ISLAMABAD: The Punjab government on Monday activated district peace committees to maintain law and order during Muharram, making it clear that the traditional routes of processions would not be changed, and that no new licenses would be issued for holding majlis gatherings.

This was conveyed to religious scholars from various sects who gathered at the deputy commissioner’s office.

Chaired by Deputy Commissioner Talat Mehmood Gondal, the peace committee meeting was attended by local MNA Malik Abrar Ahmed, District Khateeb Hafiz Iqbal Rizvi, Pir Syed Izhar Hussain Bukhari, Mufti Abdur Rehman of the Jamia Islamia Saddar, Mufti Inamullah Khan of Taleemul Quran and others.

The committee was formed after 2013 and is activated in the months of Muharram and Rabiul Awal to guard against sectarian flare-ups.

On Ashura day in 2013, the Taleemul Quran seminary and around 100 shops in Raja Bazaar’s Madina Market were torched, with a Shia organization being blamed for the carnage.

In the wake of the arson, clashes erupted across the city, leading to the imposition of a curfew in the garrison city.

On Aug 21 this year, ISPR chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor revealed that the attack on the mosque was carried out by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in an attempt to rupture sectarian fault-lines. He claimed the violence was linked to Indian and Afghan intelligence activities in the country.

On Tuesday, when certain members of the district peace committee tried to raise the issue, the deputy commissioner stopped them from discussing the matter, saying they should avoid discussing past wrongs and look forward to create brotherhood and harmony among Muslims.

Mr Gondal said that the district administration would install CCTV cameras on the 11km route of the Ashura procession.

He said that the provincial government had issued standard operating procedures for security and arrangements for the majlis and mourning processions.

He told the committee there would a ban on the use of loud speakers and hate speeches against different sects.

City Police Officer Israr Ahmed Abbasi informed participants that security arrangements had been made in seven tehsils, including Rawalpindi, Murree, Gujar Khan, Taxila, Kahuta, Kotli Sattian and Kalar Syedan.

He said that the traditional routes of mourning processions of Muharram 7 and Muharram 10 would not be changed and the participants would be facilitated and provide security at any cost.

However, he said that it was the duty of organisers to observe the timetable agreed between the processions organisers and the district administration.

In Islamabad, all police station in charges have been asked to mount vigilance in their respective area to keep an eye on religious wall chalking that may hurt anyone’s sentiments.

During a meeting chaired by Senior Superintendent of Police Sajid Kiani, directives was issued to station house officers and sub-divisional police officers to remain vigilant ahead of Muharram and were told to conduct a survey in their respective areas and erase all such wall chalking.

Our correspondent adds from Taxila: Police, local administration and intelligence agencies have devised security plans to protect places of worship, particularly imambargahs, processions and religious gatherings in Muharram, Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Sajid Gondal said on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Gondal said foolproof security arrangements have been made for 14 imambargahs and 122 mosques in Taxila, and five imambargahs and 162 mosques in Wah Cantonment.

He said 43 processions will be taken out, 33 in Taxila and 10 in Wah Cantonment, and 31 religious gatherings would be held in both areas – of which nine have been declared sensitive, seven have been declared less sensitive and are in the B category, and 15 have been declared normal.

Mr Gondal said the police would also implement a loudspeaker and wall-chalking ban, and local police officers had been directed to monitor all activists under section 11-EE of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2017