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Police cordon off a road leading to a Muharram procession ahead of the Ashura festival in Karachi.—Reuters

KARACHI: An uneasy calm prevailed in the city on Thursday amid tight security measures for mourning gatherings and other Muharram-related activities mainly on the 10th of Muharram as the last year’s deadly attack on the main Ashura procession and at least four bomb blasts in 2010 alone haunt Karachiites.

The heavily guarded south zone of the police organisational structure, the centre of the religious gatherings from Muharram 8 to 10, wore a deserted look with scant traffic on the roads. M. A. Jinnah Road adjoining parts of Saddar and the old city areas — the route of the main processions from the 8th to 10th of Muharram — in the same zone remained inaccessible to people except mourners and media persons after due frisking and clearance.

“We have made extraordinary arrangements,” said capital city police officer Fayyaz Leghari to reporters during his visit to Nishtar Park to examine the security measures. Provincial home minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza also visited the place for the same purpose.

“Some 6,000 policemen and officers are being deployed for the security of the main Ashura procession, which will also be monitored through helicopters. To keep an eye on the adjoining areas, police commandoes will also be posted on high-rise buildings along the procession route.”

He also explained measures for the security of 107 processions and 324 Majalis in the city besides steps for providing security to 2,091 mosques during Friday prayers.

The city police chief sounded confident about meeting the challenge but the surviving victims of the last year’s tragedy are a little reluctant to trust the strategy.

“This is the first time that none of the trader bodies was taken on board by police authorities while designing a security plan,” said Ateeq Meer, the chairman of the Alliance of Market Associations, claiming to be a common platform for nearly 300 market and trader associations in the city.

“The plan is still secret which we don’t take as negative, but on the ground we have not seen anything different from the last year’s. The police have just sealed the area and it seems that the plan is more focused on containing the post-incident damage.”

He recalled the ‘last year failure’ of the law-enforcement agencies that kept the traders of more than 100 markets on the route under fear.

Sajid Ali, who lost his younger brother and the left leg in the Ashura attack, does not have very different memories.

“It’s really unfortunate and disappointing that despite repeated assurances by authorities such an incident occurred last year,” he said.

“I was part of the procession with my two younger brothers and had there been security arrangements and checks in real terms, the terrorists could not have succeeded in planting the bomb along the road.”

However, despite threats and least trust in security arrangements in the wake of the last year tragedy, Mr Ali said he with his family members would be part of the Ashura procession.

“If people start staying home under fear and leave the path they believe is right and justified, it would definitely send a message of success to the terrorists, who not only attacked the procession but also tried to assault sectarian harmony,” he added.