KARACHI: Blind faith? Was it that which brought out thousands of Shias to the Muharram 9 procession in Karachi on Thursday? Whether they were six or 60 years old, the city’s Shia mourners know there was and continues to be a very tangible threat from terrorists. Ah, but they also say where there is faith, there is no fear.
“I come for Imam Hussain (RA) and God willing will continue to do so,” Mohsin Gheewala summed it up. He joined the procession midway with his family and there was no question about it. “In Pakistan, each day is a battle and if we are going to die it might as well be for something good,” he said with his two-year-old in his arms and six-year-old by his side.
“I’m not scared because I know our imam will protect us,” remarked nine-year-old Akbar Ali, who was clad in black but was walking barefoot. The young azadar (mourner) attends the holy month’s procession every year with his family who ride in from North Karachi. Another mourner Rana Rizvi, joined the procession from Nishtar Park with her two young daughters and teenage nephew. “We have aqeeda [faith] and that is why, whether or not there is a security threat, we will take part in the procession of Imam Hussain (RA),” she said. “I come every year for the 9th and 10th and plan to do the same this year.”
This year the security arrangements didn’t disappoint either. Every nook and cranny of the procession route, originating from Nishtar Park to its culmination at Hussainia Iranian in Kharadar, was secured with about 12,000 police, rangers and scouts. All alternate routes were sealed off with huge shipping containers or large vehicles. Hundreds of police and rangers — on foot and in mobile units — sandwiched the phalanx of the thousands of mourners who formed the procession. At both points, full-body searches along with metal detectors and complete vehicles searches were conducted by scouts, some as young as eight years old, who diligently checked each person and machine that passed their way.
Ahead of the procession, led by the Pakistan Hyderi Scouts, security personnel checked all shops, buildings and unsealed manholes. This was a second check as earlier sweeps were conducted.
Even the police personnel guarding the procession were given special passes as were members of the media covering the event. According to police officials, three bomb disposal squads were walking 200 yards ahead of the procession along with members from the police special forces who formed a baton barrier, prohibiting those who may have slipped past previous checks points to join the procession without a full search. And that was just on the ground. Two helicopters kept circling and taking an aerial view of the arrangements along with snipers deployed on almost all rooftops along the route. At the procession’s tail were dozens of ambulances, security mobiles and police vans that followed with several fire engines.
Mrs Abid with her three children and 15 other family members didn’t manage to walk with the procession but joined it at the end point in Kharadar. Responding to any fears she may have, she said, “If we get scared there is no point, we live for our imam and God willing, will attend the Ashura procession and continue attending as long as we live.”
Fifty-eight-year-old Hussain Abbas has been serving the mourners through his sabeel (water stall) every Muharram since 1969. “I am highly satisfied with the government’s security arrangements,” he said. “But in case of any unfortunate incident, we are ready to sacrifice our lives for Imam Hussain (RA).”
Nonetheless, this was just the first day of vigilance. Deputy Inspector General (DIG) South Iqbal Mehmood told The Express Tribune after the procession safely reached Hussainia Iranian, that any loopholes will be strengthened for Friday, Ashura or the 10th of Muharram, when another, perhaps larger procession will be organised. In addition to that, as it is a Friday, Mehmood and his team are especially concerned about the Friday prayers held at Tibet Centre. “The (Muharram) procession will pass along Tibet Centre at the same time as Friday prayers conclude and we do not want the two groups to overlap, so we have devised a new strategy,” he said. Today is going to be yet another test for security and faith.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2010.
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