Government mulls cellular shutdown, army deployment
By: Zahid Gishkori
ISLAMABAD: With rage against the sacrilegious movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’ expected to reach its crescendo on Friday, government and security forces are bracing for a bitter showdown in the capital.
As anger against the movie is directed towards Western missions, the interior ministry is considering a complete lockdown to protect diplomatic missions in the capital, including suspension of cellular services in major cities and deployment of army and Rangers.
Thousands of demonstrators protesting against the anti-Islam movie are expected to march on to the United States embassy in Islamabad today (Friday), designated the Ishq-e-Rasool (pbuh) day, and declared a national holiday by the government.
Suspending cellular services
The government might order the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to suspend cellular services in some sensitive areas to foil attempted terrorist attacks on Ishq-e-Rasool (pbuh) day, said officials associated with the interior ministry. Cellular services are likely to be suspended in Karachi, Lahore, Multan, some areas of Balochistan, Peshawar and areas surrounding the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad, the officials added.
On Thursday evening, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said “the government has not yet decided to block cellular services.”
A senior official of PTA, however, said they have been directed by the interior ministry to stay alert to implement the order of suspending cellular services.
Deploying the Army
“Army and Rangers have been put on alert for the security of the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad,” said Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
“The move aims to protect foreign missions, particularly the US embassy in Islamabad,” a spokesperson of Interior Ministry quoted Malik as saying. The deliberations to put the Army and Rangers on “alert” came after the capital police faced troubles in controlling demonstrators on Thursday.
Malik said the interior ministry had successfully convinced clerics to observe a peaceful Ishq-e-Rasool (pbuh) day.
Intelligence reports, however, suggest that protests may turn violent on Friday as hardcore clerics have planned to force their way into the diplomatic enclave after clashing with the police, a senior official associated with the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) told The Express Tribune.
Demonstrators, the report suggests, can also target other diplomatic missions located in residential areas of the federal capital, the official added.
Embassies cancel activities
The Unites States, meanwhile, has directed its staff in Pakistan to avoid any non-essential travel to other cities.
“The US Embassy and consulates in Pakistan will be closed on Friday due to the national holiday,” said an official statement by US Embassy on Thursday night. Other foreign missions have also cancelled their activities on Friday. The German mission has canceled a jazz concert on Friday.
As protesters head to the capital, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and Interior Minister Rehman Malik hit out at the Punjab government for letting activists of banned outfits to march on to Islamabad.
“Stop sending banned outfits’ activists from Punjab to the capital,” Malik said.
Kaira appealed to the Punjab government to not let protesters enter Islamabad, particularly from Muree and Rawalpindi.
Chief Commissioner Islamabad, meanwhile, has cancelled the government-announced holiday on Friday for all district and police officers.
Police Inspector General Bani Amin said no one would be allowed entry into red zone without proper documentation to prove their purpose of visit. He said the rally participants would not be stopped from protesting, but they would not be allowed to create a law and order situation.
Cycle race cancelled
The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has announced cancellation of an international mountain bike race that was scheduled to be held at the Kaghan valley on Friday (today), in protest against the anti-Islam film.
‘Tour of Himalayas 2012’ was meant to be a fundraiser for the Kaghan Memorial Trust (KMT), a non-governmental organisation that launched schools for the earthquake-hit communities of the valley after 2005.
The three-day event was to include participants from different countries.
K-P Sports Minister Syed Aqil Shah, on Thursday, said the event was cancelled not due to any threats faced by the contestants, but to register their protest against the sacrilegious film.
With additional input from Umar Nangiana in Islamabad and Muhammad Sadaqat in Haripur.