UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
PAKISTAN: 4,000 strong force to police capital from Tuesday
ISLAMABAD, 29 December 2003 (IRIN) - About 4,000 policemen will be deployed from Tuesday in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, as part of extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of visiting heads of state, including Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, during next week's South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit.
"Tighter security will mean every vehicle will be checked on VIP roads [leading up to places] where most dignitaries will be staying," Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the information minister, told IRIN in Islamabad. "This is the need of the time," he added.
On Sunday, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat told a press conference that Islamabad would be sealed off completely from Tuesday to ensure foolproof security arrangements during the summit, which is to be held between 4 and 6 January, preceded by a SAARC foreign ministers' meeting on 2 and 3 January. The foreign secretaries of the seven SAARC member countries - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives - are scheduled to meet on 31 December and 1 January.
A local English-language newspaper carried a front-page photograph on Monday of army personnel, laden with automatic weapons and other equipment, climbing up the Margalla Hills that overlook the capital, in reportedly the first of the security measures. A military spokesman was quoted as saying whatever numbers of troops were deemed necessary would be deployed for additional security, along with helicopters for aerial surveillance.
The summit, always an important occasion for the region's countries, is being eagerly awaited because it will mark the first time that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Vajpayee will meet in two years, following a much-publicised handshake proffered by Musharraf at a previous SAARC assemblage in Kathmandu, the Nepali capital, in January 2002.
Relations between the two neighbours were then at their lowest ebb following a daring attack on India's parliament in New Delhi in December 2001 by militants India said had been trained by Pakistan - a charge vehemently denied by the Pakistani government.
Recent peace overtures by the Pakistanis and similar reciprocal gestures by the Indian leadership - including the acceptance of a ceasefire in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir - render the impending meeting even more significant.
Security, however, is a matter of deep concern, following the assassination attempts on Musharraf's convoy on Christmas Day, which narrowly missed the president, but ended up killing 15 people, including the two suicide bombers along with four police officials, and wounding nearly 50 others.
The Christmas Day attacks came less than a fortnight after a bomb went off seconds after Musharraf's motorcade passed over a bridge on its way to the presidential residence in Rawalpindi, which nestles alongside Islamabad, and occurred barely a few hundred metres from the site of the first attack and just over a kilometre away from Musharraf's official residence.
Intensive efforts by the police and other security agencies are under way to establish the identity of the attackers, considered to have had links with international jihadi, or Islamist, organisations. But government officials, including the information minister, shied away from making a definitive statement about newspaper reports to the effect that one of the attackers might have been identified by investigating officials.
"They are making positive progress. They are very close. They are very much on the case," Rashid said, refusing to disclose any more information. "That is all I can say," he added.
Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict
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