Following sectarian violence last week, thousands of religious activists held protest rallies on Friday amid unusually tight security across major Pakistani cities.
A heavy contingent of police, paramilitary rangers, and soldiers was deployed in major cities including Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, and Multan.
In Rawalpindi, Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi, chief of the sectarian Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat organization, said: “We know how to fight against the enemies of Islam, and we are fighting against them.” Ludhianvi is a former leader of the sectarian Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan group—which was formed in the 1980s and banned in 2002. Sahaba was responsible for murdering hundreds of Shia Pakistanis, whom they consider heretics.
In Quetta, some 2,000 activists chanted anti-Shia slogans. Ramzan Mengal, a local Ahl-e-Sunnat leader there, asked the government to declare Pakistan a Sunni state. Similar scenes were seen in Peshawar, where some 4,000 people answered Ahl-e-Sunnat’s call at the city’s Shobha Bazaar, while protesters in Lahore called for the government to restrict Shia processions and confine them to their mosques. In Karachi, Ahl-e-Sunnat drew some 15,000 people.
Umar Hayat Lalika, regional police chief for Rawalpindi, where the recent sectarian violence started, told reporters that gatherings in the city have been banned and police would stop any attempts to hold rallies. Lalika said police had arrested 24 suspects, including a few police officials, adding that they were being interrogated.