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Islamabad police have no strategy to deal with sectarianism

ISLAMABAD: The frequent incidents of terrorism in the country for the last over one decade have put the law enforcement agencies in such a tight spot that they could not keep track of many other issues.

One of the issues neglected by the police in the federal capital during this period was sectarianism.

Since 2001 when terrorism dominated the agenda of the law enforcement agencies, the police neither developed a strategy to deal with sectarianism nor kept an eye on elements who had been behind the menace for long.

Apart from its preoccupation with terrorism, the Islamabad police also remained complacent about sectarianism because since 2003 the city never saw any major sectarian incident.

On October 6, 2003, Maulana Azam Tariq, the chief of Millat-i-Islamia and an MNA, was assassinated by unidentified gunmen along with four other people near the Golra toll plaza.Senior police officers at that time said the attack was a highly-organised act of sectarian terrorism.

Maulana Tarig`s assassination led to sectarian tension and sporadic clashes in the city for a couple of days.

Since then, whenever there was a threat of sectarian tension, like in Muharram, the police and its intelligence department approached the leaders of both the sects to maintain peace.

In doing so, the police always focused only on two worship places from where they feared tension could start and spread to other parts of the city.

However, after the Ashura violence in Rawalpindi this year, the capital police found themselves in an awkward situation as their previous modus operandi to go to the leaders of the two sects and bring them to a negotiating table did not work.

Left with no other option, both the capital administration and the police had to approach Ahle Sunnat walJamaat (ASWJ) chief Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi to seek his help in avoiding a sectarian clash in the city.

Maulana Ludhianvi, whose presencein the capital was always considered to be a headache by the police and the capital administration in the past, replied positively and reached the city.

He stayed in the capital for a week and helped the police and the administration defuse the sectarian tension by asking the leaders of the Sunni sect to remain peaceful.A senior police officer said there were 700 worship places in the capital city but intelligence relating to sectarianism could be gathered from only two of them.

After the Ashura incident, when the capital police tried to prepare a strategyagainst any possible violence, they found no record and details about the people and worship places who were considered to be a risk for peace, he added.

`All the details available with the po-lice were more than a decade old which could not be relied upon in preparing any strategy,` he added.

When asked why the police did not keep the record updated, the officer said: `The sectarian issue had almost been dead and as a result neither the police nor the capital administration and other depart-ments telt the need to continue workmg on it.

He added that now the police were taking the matter seriously but they had to start from scratch to update the details about the religious elements.

He said there were 685 mosques and 40 imambargahs along with 305 semi-naries in the capital city.

As many as 89 of the worship places are operated by people belonging to the Barelvi school of thought, 199 by the Deobandis, 10 by Ahle Hadis and seven by the Shia community.

In the seminaries set up on the premises of the worship places, about 843 teachers and 29,380 students mostly hailing from tribal areas, AJK, KP and southern Punjab were living.

But the police have no information about the people living in the madressahs as the administrations of the religious schools do not share any information about them with the police.

There is a potential threat that in any tense situation the managements of the seminaries can disturb the peace of the city by using the students.

Soon after the Ashura tragedy in Rawalpindi, the police identified 63 of the worship places along with 33 ulema living in different parts of the capital as a risk to peace.In the past whenever there was a sectarian tension the police mounted vigilance only around 23 religious personalities.

On November 17, the police had no other option but to seal the red zone after failing to persuade a group of ulema to cancel their plan to hold a protest demonstration in the high security area against the Rawalpindi incident.

Before sealing off the red zone, the police and the capital administration talked to the ulema of both the sects to persuade them to remain peaceful.

However, the ulema did not bother even to reply to the police.

It was at this point that the capital administration and the police had to call the ASWJ chief Maulana Ludhianvi from the Jhang district to help them maintain peace in the capital.

But without a proper strategy and an updated intelligence, can individuals be always trusted by the police to maintain peace in any area, asked the police officer.