Pak authorities step up security in sensitive areas

Peshawar: An unprecedented security blanket has been thrown over Peshawar and other sensitive areas in Pakistan's northwest that are at the forefront of the war on terror to avert possible attacks during the Islamic holy month of Muharram.

The security measures were stepped up after pro-Taliban militants carried out several attacks, including suicide bombings, since Muharram began on December 8.

The month has been marred by sectarian and militant violence in recent years.

Intelligence agencies have cautioned the Awami National Party-led coalition government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa about possible threats to security during the holy month.

Twelve districts of the province have been declared "most sensitive" for Muharram and 109 platoons of police, 39 platoons of the Elite Force, 41 platoons of the Frontier Constabulary and troops of the army and Frontier Corps have been deployed in these area.

Security forces have been placed on red alert in sensitive districts like Dera Ismail Khan, Hangu, Tank, Mansehra, Kohat, Mardan and Mingora and the tribal regions of Parachinar and Orakzai.

Army's helicopter gunships will provide cover to Shia processions in Dera Ismail Khan, Hangu and Kohat, officials said.

Provincial police chief Fiaz Ahmed Khan Toru told a jirga of religious leaders that the army will be on standby to aid the police.

The processions will pass through scanners and metal detectors to ensure their safety, according to a senior police official.

Over 3,000 policemen will be deployed in Peshawar alone for the first 10 days of Muharram. In addition to this, police guards will be deputed at all mosques and 'imambargahs' or Shia prayer halls in the city. Strict security arrangements have also been put in place for women's 'majlis' or gatherings.

Hussainia Hall within Peshawar's cantonment, from where the main procession is taken out on the ninth day of Muharram, has been sealed from all sides. Strict restrictions have been imposed on the movement of people and traffic for another 'Alm and Zuljinah' procession to be brought out on the tenth day of Muharram from the famous Qissa Khwani Bazar.

The police's Supreme Command Post at Kohati Gate in Peshawar too is on red alert as the area is home to numerous 'imambargahs'.

The area has been sealed to all kinds of traffic and pedestrians and people can enter there only after passing through scanners, officials said.

Entering sensitive areas in Peshawar like the Qissa Khwani Bazar and Kohati Gate, is not less than a Herculean task, a passerby said.

"You have to pass through a long queue for a body search to enter the bazaar," he said.