Islamabad: Pakistan is deploying some 10,000 troops and 6,000 paramilitary members to prevent sectarian violence during the holy month of Moharram, the interior minister said today.
Moharram, which begins tomorrow and sees Shiites hold gatherings and processions to mourn the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Imam Hussain, is frequently marred by sectarian violence, which has risen markedly in recent years.
Clashes between Sunnis and Shiites led to at least 11 deaths two years ago in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, close to the capital Islamabad.
“We have adopted a pro-active strategy like previous years and some 10,000 personnel from the army and another 6,300 from civil armed forces, including Rangers and Frontier Corps, will be deployed across Pakistan for security during the month of Moharram,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar told a press conference.
Sectarian violence – in particular by Sunni hardliners against the Shiites that make up roughly 20 per cent of Pakistan’s 200 million people – has claimed thousands of lives in the country over the past decade.
In July the leader of an anti-Shiite group behind some of Pakistan’s worst sectarian atrocities was killed in a shoot-out with police, along with 13 other militants.
Malik Ishaq and his fellow Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants, including senior commanders, were shot dead in in Punjab.
And Islamic State militants were behind a brutal attack that killed 45 Shiites in Karachi in May, a Pakistani official told AFP Monday, despite the government’s long-held stance that the jihadist group does not have a presence in the country.
The worst atrocities, however, have been in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, home to some 200,000 Shiites.
Shiite gatherings and processions during Muharram mark Hussain’s martyrdom in the Battle of Karbala, Iraq, in 680 AD.
Hussain is equally revered by Sunnis, but hardliners oppose the public mourning of his martyrdom.