ISLAMABAD: Warning of the threat of a terrorist attack by militant groups or “radicalised youth”, the Interior Ministry on Wednesday asked the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to postpone its public gatherings as part of the party’s ongoing ‘Haqeeqi Azadi’ long march.

In a letter to PTI Secretary General Asad Umar, the ministry said looking at the country’s security situation “the PTI leadership may consider the possibility of postponing public gatherings like the one planned in Rawalpindi on Nov 26 to avoid any untoward incident”.

Earlier this week, PTI Chairman Imran Khan had asked his supporters to converge on Rawalpindi on Nov 26 for the resumption of the party’s long march that he is expected to rejoin in person after recovering from the injuries he sustained in a gun attack in Wazirabad earlier this month. The march was suspended when it reached Rawat a few days ago.

The Interior Ministry in its letter said it had been “sharing alerts on the threats to the life” of Mr Khan from “anti-state elements”. The alerts had been generated by credible intelligence sources, it said.

Letter to Asad Umar quotes intel reports that Imran’s life in danger

The letter further said that in view of the threats, the federal government had provided a bulletproof vehicle and deployed police and civil armed forces for Mr Khan’s stay in the capital. However, the PTI chief was presently in Lahore and participants of the march had moved to Rawat.

The ministry expected the Punjab government to take all necessary security measures in their jurisdiction for the protection of the former prime minister as well as the march participants.

“Anti-state elements like Al Qaeda/Daesh, TTP, and radicalised youth of the TLP can take advantage of soft targets like public gatherings to destabilise the country through suicide attacks, IEDs (improvised explosive devise) etc,” it warned.

The letter to former minister Asad Umar stated that “in view of the gravity of the security threat, the need to exercise maximum caution can hardly be over-emphasised”.

The letter regretted, however, that despite repeated requests cautioning the PTI about the threats, especially in the context of the protest planned in Rawalpindi on Nov 26, the party leadership seemed “oblivious” to the security situation.

The latest intelligence report had been shared with the provincial governments. The ministry urged the PTI to keep the security situation in view and consider postponing the rally.

Meanwhile, in a similar letter to the provincial governments, the Interior Ministry said it had been learnt through reliable intelligence sources that a serious threat existed to the life of Mr Khan as well as the general public participating in the PTI’s long march.

Listing some of the factors shared by an intelligence agency, which it claimed enhanced the likelihood of such an incident, the letter mentioned the leaked video statement of the suspected shooter and belief of the “radicalised and uneducated” young members of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) that Mr Khan had been responsible for the police crackdown on TLP protesters in the past. Therefore, the ministry said, any attempt of a “lone wolf attack” for vengeance by any radicalised youth of the TLP couldn’t be ruled out.

It also referred to the PTI-Majlis-i-Wahdat-i-Muslimeen alliance and the religious party’s participation in the former ruling party’s long march that made it a target for anti-Shia militants, claiming a large number of operatives of the militant Islamic State group had infiltrated from Afghanistan into Pakistan after the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

“In addition, Al Qaeda has been dormant for quite some time, however, it has a penchant for conducting attacks of strategic implications. In this backdrop, mass bombing/IED attack or suicide attack cannot be ruled out against such soft targets. In view of the aforesaid, it is requested that extreme vigilance and caution may be exercised to prevent the possibility of any such incident,” the ministry wrote in its letter.

The letter has been sent to the chief secretaries of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan; and the Islamabad chief commissioner. Copies of the letter have also been sent to the secretary to the prime minister, and chief secretaries of Sindh and Balochistan.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2022

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