KARACHI: Within a couple of hours of issuing a notification that added a month to the ban on public rallies and processions, the provincial government issued a second that effectively nullified the first for the weekend.
Apparently, Sindh was all set to extend the implementation of Section 144 when it decided to backtrack and lift the ban on public rallies and processions for two days.
On Saturday, the home department’s notification said religious rites and funeral processions and those with special permission from the department are exempt from the ban that will now come into effect from October 31.
The ban was imposed on September 28. Home department officials told The Express Tribune the change comes as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) announced that they would be rallying today (Sunday) at MA Jinnah Road against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. They will also express solidarity with President Asif Ali Zardari and protest the use of unparliamentary language against the president by Shahbaz Sharif during his speech on Friday.
MQM MPA and Provincial Minister Raza Haroon spoke to the media after inspecting the arrangements for the rally at Tibet Centre. He explained that the purpose of the rally was to protest the use of unethical language against President Asif Ali Zardari. He said that nobody should be allowed to use inappropriate language from any forum or stage against the president and army.
When the initial announcement of the ban being extended came in, MQM’s Wasay Jalil did not sound concerned and said the party’s rally would go ahead as scheduled. “The government will give us a relaxation for the event,” he told The Express Tribune.
While the home department’s Sharfuddin Memon refused to comment, sources said the department issued the first notification automatically without consulting the Sindh government as the previous one had expired. Later, however, the chief minister ordered another notification. In addition, the memo directed Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders and workers to attend the rally. According to a statement issued by the party on Saturday, senior minister and PPP Sindh Assembly parliamentary leader, Pir Mazharul Haq, their Sindh general secretary Taj Hyder, senior leader ND Khan, Karachi division president Najmi Alam, the CM’s media adviser Waqar Mehdi, Local Government Minister Agha Siraj Durrani and Archives Minister Rafique Engineer will lead party workers at the rally.
Waqar Mehdi said that only PPP workers belonging to Karachi division will participate in the rally.
Home department officials also said that the president also told the home minister to take care of security. Police meanwhile, are confused as to how they are expected to provide security to the rally’s participants as they had not received any official intimation till Saturday evening. They plan to deploy special commandos of the Special Protection Group and Rapid Response Force but will not block the routes leading to MA Jinnah Road.
“We will only be able to map out a security plan once we get a copy of the permission letter,” District South DIG Commandant Shaukat Ali Shah told The Express Tribune. “It depends on the size of the crowd.”
As no terrorism threats have been made, the authorities see no reason to beef up the security. “Muharram and Rabiul Awwal have their own threat of terrorism and we make extra arrangements for them accordingly,” said DIG Shah. “However, this is a political rally and neither there is any threat, nor is there any political or government pressure on us. So we will make arrangements as we see fit.”
Scheduling the rally on a Sunday means the traffic police are also off the hook. DIG Traffic Khurram Gulzar said that there would not be a traffic jam because it is Sunday and only the areas where the rally is being held would be blocked.
“We will just have to set up two diversions, one at II Chundrigar Road and the other at Nishtar Road,” he said. “As soon as the rally ends, we will open up the MA Jinnah Road.”
The Sunni Tehreek, which has seen hundreds of their activists arrested under Section 144, has strongly criticised the government’s decision. They had a rally planned on October 22 at MA Jinnah Road that was halted for the same reason.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2011.