The threat of sectarian violence is never greater than during the month of Muharram in Pakistan. Despite all the reassurances and preparations, there is always bloodshed. Last year, Rawalpindi erupted with violence, and in a matter of minutes, the situation deteriorated so rapidly that the military had to be called in and a curfew was imposed to prevent further violence. This year, like every year, the relevant authorities and provincial governments appear to be working round the clock to prevent familiar tragedies. The Punjab government has sought additional contingents of Rangers to be deployed in sensitive locations. Sindh Additional IG Operations has requested the provincial government to keep the Army on standby. For Quetta, ten thousand Police and FC personnel will be deployed to keep the situation under control. To keep Khyber Pakhtunkhwa secure, entry routes from Afghanistan will be sealed and pillion riding will be banned. These are all standard measures, which need to be successfully executed to achieve desired results.

However, what is most important, is to keep known sectarian elements under strict surveillance, at least during Muharram. What transpired in Rawalpindi last year could have been easily avoided had the relevant authorities been alert and aware during the days leading to Ashura. All district administrations know full well of sectarian elements operating within their respective areas. They can identify the mosques as well as the people who use them for hate speech and incitement to violence. Visit their places. Listen to their sermons. Are they asking followers to gather on the fateful day to confront those who they consider non-believers and to disrupt activities and processions they deem unislamic? Is something cooking up? Find out. Keep an eye on them. Put them under house arrest if necessary. Incidents of wall chalking and hate speech ought to be dealt with in a strict fashion. It is when they get away with little things that they feel emboldened to spill blood in the name of religion. Such cannot be allowed at any cost – no more.