Pakistan beefs up security ahead of elections, Muharram

By Xinhua

Karachi : In and outside of the Forum shopping mall, the most luxurious one in Pakistan’s Karachi city, more security deployment than in usual days can be seen.

Support TwoCircles

A much higher number of police personnel and Pakistan Rangers are patrolling the streets of the biggest city of Pakistan to prevent anything unexpected from happening.

In the wake of the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto Dec 27, the government has been strengthening security across the country to secure a smooth election on Feb 18 and Muharram, the first month of Islamic calendar.

Karachi, which was the most seriously affected during the violence in the aftermath of Bhutto’s assassination, is one of the biggest concerns for security authorities.

Law enforcement agencies have been put on high alert ahead of Muharram fearing terrorist activity in the province of Sindh, especially Karachi, the Daily Times reported.

A total of 27,000 policemen, aided by Pakistan Rangers, are being deployed in Karachi alone as over 20,000 processions are to be organised in the city within the first 10 days of Muharram, said the report.

The interior ministry has issued a circular to all provincial governments, warning that the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) has formed new sub groups and could stage violence and looting, the newspaper said.

“These militants could target any government, political or religious leader or property and might comprise young men aged between 18 and 20,” the report said, citing security sources.

The Home Secretary of the Sindh province, Brigadier Ghulam Mohammad Mohtaram, said that under the current circumstances, any terrorist activity could happen any time at any place and that the terrorists could target any person.

“The army has already been deployed in Sindh, especially in Karachi, and according to the government’s plan, the army contingent will remain deployed across Sindh until the elections,” the Daily Times said.

Suspected militants were being monitored for links with any banned organisation, the home secretary said.

“Actually, all these terrorists and banned organisations have links with Baitullah Mehsud, Taliban and Al Qaeda,” he noted.

Security authorities say the task of securing a safe and secure Muharram and election is hard to achieve. The Sindh province’s police chief, Azhar Ali Farooqui, said: “It is very difficult but we will give it our level best and fulfil all our obligations to the most.”

President Pervez Musharraf called Friday a high level meeting, attended by caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro, Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan, army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani and top security officials, to review the security measures put in place. All possible efforts should be made to protect the lives and property of the people, said the president.

Musahrraf also called for the timely evaluation of damage caused to public and private property during the violence following the assassination of Bhutto.

The violence has claimed some 60 lives and caused huge loss of properties nationwide. The Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry has estimated a corporate loss of around $1.33 billion (80 billion Pakistani rupees) and a GDP loss of around $145 million (8.7 billion rupees) during the five-day-long riots.

Caretaker Prime Minister Soomro said a mechanism for assessing the damage is being put in place and the government is coordinating with the four provinces to carry out the work.

The meeting also reviewed the deployment of the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Rangers in aid to the civil administration in various parts of the country ahead of the elections.

Musharraf has said the army and paramilitary forces will be deployed across Pakistan before and even after the polls.