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Sectarian violence looms large over Pindi

By Aamir Yasin and Munawer Azeem 2013-12-19
RAWALPINDI: Unless better sense prevails, the city looks heading for a man-made disaster next week when the Shia community brings out a procession to observe Chehlum of Imam Hussain and a section of the Sunni majority tries to block it.

A signature campaign is going on in the Raja Bazaar to gain support of the traders for the blockade who had suffered most in the bloody sectarian mayhem on Ashura day last month.

Clerics of the Madressah Taleemul Quran in the area have made the blockade a certain-ty by deciding to hold a 40-hour, non-stop, onthe-road conference on the Chehlum procession`s route in the memory of those killed and the burning down of their madressah-mosquemarket complex that day.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah arrived in Rawalpindi on Wednesday at the head of the Punjab Cabinet Special Sub-Committee for Peace and Security, which was formed after that violence, to prevent worse happening on December 24, the Chehlum day.

Local PML-N leaders, interested in seeing peace and development in the city in view of the forthcoming local government elections, tried to persuade the madressah clerics to postpone their conference but failed.

Desperate, the Rawalpindi administration and police then took their request to the clerics of Lal Masjid and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) leaders in Islamabad to calm down the clerics of Madressah Taleemul Quran.

`We will take up the request on Thursday,ASWJ Islamabad leader Mustafa Baloch told Dawn, adding that the conference was being held to express solidarity with the victims of Ashura day violence.

Custodian of the Madressah Taleemul Quran Maulana Ashraf Ali, however, sounded adamant.

`There is no plan to postpone the conference,` he told Dawn.

He said his madressah and the mosque associated with it had `no role` in the Raja Bazaar traders` campaign to block the Chehlum procession. Sharjeel Mir of the Traders Association of Madina Market, which was located in the madressah complex, said same.

`We in the business community suffer financially because of the procession and the potential violence it entails,` he told Dawn.

However, President of the Rawalpindi Traders Association Sheikh Sadique had a different take on the issue.`Traders want all processions to stop, whether brought out by the Sunnis or Shia or political parties,` he said.

`They want peaceful environment for their business activities. We are not against any sect and requested the government to device the policy while taking all religious leaders on board,` he added.

Meanwhile, the Islamabad police have chalked out an elaborate security plan for the city on Chehlum day. Extra police have already been deployed at five Imambargahs and 14 more have been declared `sensitive` places.

Inspector General of Police Sikandar Hayat said security was enhanced at worship places soon after the terrorist attack at an Imambargah in Rawalpindi overnight.

There will be 3,000 police personnel on duty on Chehlum day compared to the 2,500 policemen deployed on Ashura day last month, he said.