ISLAMABAD: In an unprecedented move, the authorities have banned motorcycle pillion riding in the federal capital for two months in a bid to thwart attempts to disrupt security for Muharram processions and gatherings.
The blanket ban, however, has raised many eyebrows as motorcycles are one the most popular modes of travel for hundreds of thousands belonging to lower strata of society in the twin cities.
The district authorities usually impose restrictions such as ban on rallies without prior permission, motorcycle pillion riding, and display of banners among others but the restrictions are usually imposed for a day or two around Ashura, the 10th of Muharram when majority of the processions are taken out. However, this year the ban on motorcycle pillion riding has been imposed for two months in the capital city.
The public order, issued by Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat on Sunday, said the measure has been taken to avert the possible acts of sabotage and violence aimed at disrupting peace in the city.
To a question about the unprecedented two-month-long restriction, Shafqaat said there were more security threats this time around due to which the ban was imposed for the whole duration during which Muharram gatherings take place. “There will be at least 197 Muharram processions in Islamabad starting from today. The majalis and gatherings are in addition to this,” he explained. The deputy commissioner said the police had requested for the ban on pillion riding.
He, however, assured that this would not be a ‘blanket’ ban and women, children and the elderly will be exempted from this. Shfqaat said there was no plan to block cellular services in the capital as part of security measures.
While motorcycle hitchhikers are likely to be affected by the ban on pillion riding, motorcyclists driving their bikes for ride-hailing services such as Careem and Uber to make a living will be the worst affected by the blanket ban. Hundreds of unemployed men, especially youth, have started driving bikes with online ride hailing services in the twin cities in recent months.
While the deputy commissioner says that the ban means police would check credentials of motorcyclists and would let them go after checking, motorcyclists fear police high-handedness since Section 144 has been imposed and pillion riding officially banned.
“Ban on motorcycle pillion riding for two months is unacceptable and unnecessary. How would we be able to earn a living if we are not to work for two months,” said a motorcyclist working with a ride-hailing service. He said the PTI government should intervene and lift the restriction, at least for motorcycle taxis.