ISLAMABAD: In an unprecedented move, the capital’s authorities have banned pillion riding on motorbikes in the city for a period of two months citing security for Muharram processions and gatherings.
The ban, though, has raised many eyebrows since motorbikes remain a popular mode of travel for hundreds of thousands belonging to the lower strata of society living in the twin cities.
The district authorities usually impose restrictions on rallies which are held without securing prior permission, motorbike pillion riding, and the display of banners during Muharram.
However, these restrictions are usually imposed for a day or two which centre around Muharram 10 when the largest processions are taken out.
However, this year, the ban on motorbike pillion riding has been imposed for two months.
Public orders issued by Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat on Sunday explained that the measure had been taken under Section 144 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) to avert any possible acts of sabotage and violence aimed at disrupting peace in the city.
When asked about the unprecedented length of the ban, Shafqaat said there were more security threats this time around due to which a longer ban had been imposed, adding that it was the police who had requested for the ban on pillion riding.
He further said that the ban was aimed at covering a time period when a larger number of small congregations relating to Muharram would take place in the federal capital.
“There will be at least 197 Muharram processions in Islamabad starting from today,” the deputy commissioner said, adding that the smaller congregations or majalis are in addition to the processions.
He, however, assured that this would not be a ‘blanket’ ban and that the women, children and the elderly will be exempt from it.
Shafqaat also dismissed the notion that cellular services could be blocked in the capital as part of security measures, as has been practised in the past.
While motorbike hitchhikers are likely to be affected by the ban, motorcyclists who drive their bikes with ride-hailing services to make a living will be the worst hit.
Hundreds of unemployed men, especially youth, have started driving bikes with online ride-hailing services in the twin cities in recent months after seeing their success in other parts of the country.
While the deputy commissioner assured that the ban means that the police would check the credentials of motorbike riders and would let them go after checking, riders fear police high-handedness.
“Ban on motorbike pillion riding for two months is unacceptable and unnecessary. How would we make a living if we cannot work for two months,” said a motorbike rider working with a ride-hailing service.
He urged the new Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government to intervene and lift the ban, at least for the motorbike-taxis.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2018.