MANY parts of the country remain on edge as Muharram approaches. In Karachi, several people — both Shia and Sunni activists — have been murdered in the past week in a renewed wave of sectarian killings. Victims have included an adviser to the Imamia Students Organisation and a Shia scholar as well as activists of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and students of a Deobandi madressah. Quetta has seen its share of targeted killings, particularly of beleaguered Hazara Shias. The situation in Gilgit-Baltistan, which experienced an outburst of sectarian violence earlier in the year, is also tense. There are intelligence reports of threats in Khairpur, Sindh too.
While the law and order situation in many parts of Pakistan is already precarious, the administration faces additional challenges during Muharram. Large numbers of people are on the streets on their way to and from mosques and imambargahs, while countless majalis are organised and processions taken out across the country. Securing the venues in such a charged atmosphere, with the threat of terrorist violence ever present, is indeed challenging. The authorities have begun to go through the usual motions. For example, pillion-riding has been banned in certain cities while meetings have been organised with ulema to ensure harmony. Scholars from all sides must ensure harmony while the Shia community needs to cooperate with law-enforcers, and vice versa, for a safe Muharram. Enhanced security, greater deployment and effective intelligence-gathering and sharing are all required. Where need be the army should be deployed; it has already been tasked with maintaining peace in Hangu during Muharram and is reportedly on the standby in Quetta.
Police officials point out that it is essential for military and civilian intelligence agencies to share advance intelligence in a timely manner so that action can be taken. Coordination becomes all the more important when a number of agencies are involved in gathering different types of intelligence. Also, the intelligence passed on to the police and Rangers needs to be ‘actionable’ and specific — vague information helps little to avert attacks. Increased surveillance of suspected militants on the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act is also necessary. Reports in the media that security agencies in Punjab have lost track of 50 terrorism suspects are not encouraging. And in case anything untoward does occur, security forces, specifically the police, should be properly trained in disaster management and crowd-control techniques, especially in non-lethal methods of managing crowds. With cooperation from all stakeholders — the general population, the Shia community, the security establishment and the state — the terrorists’ plans can be foiled and the period of mourning observed peacefully.