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Interior Minister, Senator A. Rehman Malik talking to media persons after chairing a meeting to review security arrangements made for Muharramul Harram in the country at Ministry of Interior. —Photo by APP

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Soon after reports about Interior Minister Rehman Malik ordering over a million users of motorcycles off the road in Karachi on Friday went on the air on Thursday night, the Sindh High Court suspended the ban.Mot

Chief Justice Mushir Alam of the Sindh High Court issued the order on a petition filed by Sindh High Court Bar Association President Anwar Mansoor Khan against the day-long ban on use of motorcycles in the provincial capital.

The court also summoned provincial Home Secretary, IG police and the Advocate General to appear on Friday.

The interior ministry also banned use of motorcycles in Quetta on Friday and authorities in Balochistan announced that the ministry’s order would be implemented.

Sources in the SHCBA said the association’s president had requested the chief justice to suspend the operation of the interior ministry’s order because it was bound to cause a great deal of hardship to people.

The sources said the application was handed over to SHC Registrar Ghani Soomro, who placed it before the chief justice during the SHCBA’s annual dinner.

The chief justice also issued a notice to the provincial chief law officer to apprise the court of the rationale behind such an order on Friday.

Sindh Additional Chief Secretary (home) Waseem Ahmed said the government would follow the SHC orders in letter and spirit and had suspended the ban on motorcycle riding.

“The ban was proposed following intelligence reports that motorcycles can be used for terrorist activities mainly on the first day of Muharram,” he said. “But after the court orders, it is no more effective. The officials concerned will appear before the Sindh High Court on Friday to explain their point on the subject.”

Mr Malik’s order took Karachi by surprise soon after it had been announced that the moon had been sighted and Friday would be the first day of Muharram. He said the restriction was needed in view of security concerns.

His other announcement that “no one will be allowed to carry weapons” on Friday was not new for Karachiites.

He also announced that markets would be closed in Karachi and Quetta at 5 pm on the day. It was also learnt that the administration was considering banning use of mobile phones in the two cities for a few hours.

The interior minister said all permissions for tinted glass in vehicles stood cancelled across the country, although security-related official vehicles would be exempted.

After presiding over a meeting in the interior ministry on security measures for Muharram, Mr Malik came on private TV channels and declared a high alert in the entire country and special measures for Karachi and Quetta. The meeting was attended by home secretaries and heads of police forces of the four provinces.

According to police sources, there are 1.4 million registered motorcycles in Karachi and 150,000 in Quetta. As many as 1.2m motorbikes use Karachi’s roads daily.

“We are making these arrangements on intelligence reports that terrorists may strike in Karachi, Quetta and other major cities during Muharram,” the minister said.

Earlier this year, the interior ministry had blocked mobile phone services in major cities on several occasions, including during Eid holidays.

Wasay Jalil, an MQM spokesman, refused to comment on the issue. “No comment yet,” he said.The Sindh ANP’s Secretary General, Bashir Jan, termed the motorbike ban for one day a ‘useless’ step. “These are not sagacious arrangements as they cannot bring any relief,” he said.

A ruthless military operation against criminals was the only way to restore peace in Karachi, he added.

The ANP leader said a ban on use of motorcycles could be considered for the 9th and 10th of Muharram. Earlier, the interior ministry released details of the decisions taken at the meeting.

DIRECTIVES: “The meeting chaired by the minister reviewed security arrangements made for Muharram-ul-Harram in which he issued following directives for the governments of Balochistan and Sindh,” said a press release.

There will be a complete ban on motorcycles on the 1st of Muharram from 6 am to 7 pm.

The meeting decided that shops will remain open only from 10 am to 5 pm in Karachi and Quetta.

It was decided that criminals seen firing on innocent people should be dealt with instantly to ensure the safety of people.

Provincial governments were directed that Muharram processions should be protected by two (inner and outer) cordons by police and Rangers.

The meeting agreed that no vehicle without proper documents should be allowed on the road and Frontier Constabulary would be deployed in the whole of Karachi for patrolling and spot checking.

It was decided that prime suspects who were likely to create law and order situation should be taken into preventive custody for the first 10 days of Muharram.

One of the directives said that no weapon with or without licence/permit would be carried during Muharram in Karachi and Quetta.

The meeting also decided that permission for tinted-glass vehicles stood cancelled in the entire country except for security-related official vehicles and no such vehicle would be allowed on the roads.