LAHORE - Thousands of police are put on high-alert across the province to ensure foolproof security as the provincial metropolis prepares to welcome ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is expected to reach his hometown by road from Islamabad in the current week.

It was learnt on Sunday that the city police were not given the details about the ex-PM’s arrival and his route in Lahore as yet. Police officers are still waiting for the scheduled programme of the PML-N leader.

“Nothing is clear at this moment. To me personally, the city police will be informed about the protest rally once the ex-PM will leave Islamabad for Lahore,” a Lahore police officer serving in the security division told The Nation. “We have some general information (about ex-PM’s visit to Lahore). But we have not been provided the plan yet.”

The officer who preferred not to be named said that the city police had completed survey of the areas where the former PM will travel. “We are not sure when the ex-PM will arrive in Lahore. But we will provide maximum security cover to the political leaders and participants of the rally,” the officer said.

On Saturday, city police heaved a sigh of relief when former prime minister postponed his scheduled journey to Lahore for Wednesday. As the PML-N leaders announced that Nawaz Sharif will leave for Lahore on Wednesday instead of Saturday, many policemen were allowed to take leave on Sunday.

Some police officers who also spoke to The Nation, on condition of anonymity, said there were serious security threats with regard to rallies and protest demonstrations in Lahore. “Security will be a major challenge for us. Since army and police are the prime targets of terrorists, the possibility of more terror attacks on police could not be ruled out,” they said.

A Punjab government official who is familiar with the security plan said that some 5,000 policemen would be deployed across Lahore to maintain peace. He said that they were struggling to put in place a comprehensive security plan to guard rallies and political leaders keeping in mind the martyrdom of former PM Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a gun and bomb attack during an election rally in Rawalpindi in 2007.

“There are no specific security threats but it becomes too difficult for the police to secure and control huge gatherings. The terrorists prefer hitting soft targets. Therefore, public places and crowds often become their target,” another officer explained.

According to the new instructions issued from the central police office last week, the police are asked to step up search and security sweep in the big cities. An official said that police were asked to take unprecedented security measures since a massive operation was underway against terror suspects throughout the province.

Security and law-enforcement agencies were put on high-alert in the province following the Lahore suicide blast that left 26 people dead including eight police officers on July 24. Dozens of suspects are rounded up in the Punjab-wide crackdown when police launched search operations to hunt down militants and their facilitators.

Meanwhile, Lahore capital city police officer Muhammad Amin Wains has ordered his department to take every possible step to ensure the safety of public ahead of Independence Day. He also directed to conduct search operations across the city, especially in Afghan Colony, bus stands, hotels and railway stations.

Addressing a security meeting in Lahore, the officer said that all the police operation rooms must be activated to improve system of receiving and disseminating important information. He also appealed to the citizens to keep a watchful eye on their surroundings and in case of any suspicious activity immediately inform the police.

According to a police spokesman, the city police chief stated that the protection of lives and property of the people is the prime responsibility of the police. Additional police are being deployed at the entry and exit points of the provincial metropolis to check passengers, vehicles, and luggage. The police are also conducting search operations on daily basis in Lahore, he added.

Political pundits are expecting massive crowds to welcome ex-PM Nawaz Sharif who is arriving in Lahore, the stronghold of the PML-N, following his disqualification by the Supreme Court of Pakistan as MNA.