Ashura tests government's security resolve

Written by  Published by:Shiite News
Published in Pakistan
Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Ashura_testThe government is deploying tens of thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police ahead of Ashura that could be a major security test for authorities struggling to contain militant violence.

Many of Pakistan's Shi'ite Muslims, who make up 25 percent of the population, will be vulnerable to suicide bombings when they stage large rallies on Friday to mark Ashura.
Highlighting concerns, paramilitary forces carry people away on stretchers in mock exercises televised live. Officials say army soldiers will be on standby.

Recent suicide bombings carried out in defiance of a series of military offensives which the government describes as successful highlighted U.S. ally Pakistan's instability.

"Ashura is going to be very tense. There is a danger of terrorists trying to attack processions. We are taking all possible measures to avert that," a senior security official said.

Sectarian strife has intensified since sectarian outfits deepened ties with al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban insurgents after Pakistan joined the U.S.-led campaign against militancy after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The two Muslim communities generally live in harmony but tension tends to rise during Ashura.

Ashura has become a lightning rod for sectarian violence in Pakistan, a country of 170 million people suffering from political turbulence, rampant corruption, poverty and a history of uneasy ties between the military and civilian governments.

Last year, a suicide bomber blew up an Ashura procession in Pakistan's biggest city of Karachi, killing 45 mourners. About 6,500 policemen are being deployed in the commercial hub.

Fourteen people were martyred in the northwestern town of Hangu last week when a suicide bomber rammed a tractor laden with explosives into a hospital owned by Shi'ites.

"They take all these precautions every year but they have not been able to control terrorists. We can't sit at home. I have to perform my religious duties and that's why I am going to rally," said 50-year-old Mureed Hussain, wearing traditional Ashura mourning clothes of black, baggy trousers and tunic.

Like others, he and his two children had to pass through a metal detector on the way to a Shi'ite mourning procession.

Paramilitary soldiers and policemen in armoured vehicles have cordoned roads leading to the rally in central Islamabad.

Ejaz Khan, a senior police official in the main northwestern city of Peshawar, said nearly 4,000 policemen were being deployed there, backed by paramilitary forces.

"The terrorists may try to breach the security cordon around the city but we are on a high alert," he told Reuters.

He said central parts of the city would effectively be "sealed" and shops and markets along procession routes have been closed. Motorcycles, sometimes used by bombers in attacks, have been banned in parts of the northwest until Ashura ends.

Some say security measures may just deepen fear.

Like many Pakistanis of all sects, they want long-term security guarantees, something foreign investors who may see opportunities in the South Asian country also hope for.

"The government should effectively crack down on terrorists and expose their supporters and backers instead of causing harassment to the general public," said Sajid Ali Naqvi, a Shi'ite leader.

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Highlighting concerns, paramilitary forces carry people away on stretchers in mock exercises televised live. Officials say army soldiers will be on standby.

Recent suicide bombings carried out in defiance of a series of military offensives which the government describes as successful highlighted U.S. ally Pakistan's instability.

"Ashura is going to be very tense. There is a danger of terrorists trying to attack processions. We are taking all possible measures to avert that," a senior security official said.

Sectarian strife has intensified since sectarian outfits deepened ties with al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban insurgents after Pakistan joined the U.S.-led campaign against militancy after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The two Muslim communities generally live in harmony but tension tends to rise during Ashura.

Ashura has become a lightning rod for sectarian violence in Pakistan, a country of 170 million people suffering from political turbulence, rampant corruption, poverty and a history of uneasy ties between the military and civilian governments.

Last year, a suicide bomber blew up an Ashura procession in Pakistan's biggest city of Karachi, killing 45 mourners. About 6,500 policemen are being deployed in the commercial hub.

Fourteen people were martyred in the northwestern town of Hangu last week when a suicide bomber rammed a tractor laden with explosives into a hospital owned by Shi'ites.

"They take all these precautions every year but they have not been able to control terrorists. We can't sit at home. I have to perform my religious duties and that's why I am going to rally," said 50-year-old Mureed Hussain, wearing traditional Ashura mourning clothes of black, baggy trousers and tunic.

Like others, he and his two children had to pass through a metal detector on the way to a Shi'ite mourning procession.

Paramilitary soldiers and policemen in armoured vehicles have cordoned roads leading to the rally in central Islamabad.

Ejaz Khan, a senior police official in the main northwestern city of Peshawar, said nearly 4,000 policemen were being deployed there, backed by paramilitary forces.

"The terrorists may try to breach the security cordon around the city but we are on a high alert," he told Reuters.

He said central parts of the city would effectively be "sealed" and shops and markets along procession routes have been closed. Motorcycles, sometimes used by bombers in attacks, have been banned in parts of the northwest until Ashura ends.

Some say security measures may just deepen fear.

Like many Pakistanis of all sects, they want long-term security guarantees, something foreign investors who may see opportunities in the South Asian country also hope for.

"The government should effectively crack down on terrorists and expose their supporters and backers instead of causing harassment to the general public," said Sajid Ali Naqvi, a Shi'ite leader.

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