Muharram security

Published August 1, 2022

WITH the start of the month of Muharram, authorities throughout the country will need to remain extra vigilant to ensure that religious observances — especially during the first 10 days of the month — pass off peacefully. The biggest security challenge is of course ensuring that the thousands of majalis and mourning processions organised countrywide are held in an atmosphere free of terror and violence, as these religious gatherings have been attacked numerous times over the past few decades, especially after the country witnessed an uptick in sectarian violence in the 1980s. The usual administrative steps entail banning the entry into cities of preachers known to fan hatred, as well as liaising with ulema to ensure Muharram is observed peacefully. But the state will need to keep a particular eye on social media, as it is in cyberspace where malevolent elements can play havoc with public peace by uploading inflammatory content.

The number of sectarian attacks and targeted killings has indeed come down. However, this does not mean that the authorities can become complacent. After all, the savage bombing of a Shia mosque in Peshawar’s Koocha Risaldar area in March — believed to have been the handiwork of IS — is a painful reminder of the fact that terrorist groups still have the means to spill the blood of innocents on a mass scale. And considering the safe space IS and TTP fighters — who share a sectarian worldview — have in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, the state must monitor the border areas to ensure terrorist operatives are not able to enter the country. Intelligence agencies should also be on the lookout for sectarian actors and their sympathisers within Pakistan. Lastly, whilst in earlier decades localised flare-ups could be quickly addressed, social media has ensured that hate material and provocative content can spread across cyberspace within no time. That is why the state and social media firms need to immediately shut down any accounts spreading hate material, while ulema must also play their role to keep the peace.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2022

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