LAHORE - Amid tight security with deployment of police commandoes, the first phase of the three-day annual Tablighi Ijtima (preaching congregation), said to be the second largest gathering in the world after Haj, will begin at Raiwind today (Thursday).

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims from Pakistan and abroad especially Bangladesh, Egypt, India and Indonesia will attend the congregation.

Sources close to organisers say the annual congregation will start after Asar prayers and Thursday and will conclude with a special prayer, which would be offered on early Sunday. Large contingents of people have arrived from Afghanistan, India, and Bangladesh even by road.  Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Chaudhry Shafiq Ahmed on Wednesday paid a special visit to the congregation site and reviewed security arrangements and deployment of policemen at the identified points.

A spokesman for the Lahore police said that on the directions of CCPO dozens of plainclothesmen have also been deployed among the gathering to keep a vigilant eye on the activities of the miscreants.

SP (Sadar police division) Malik Awais briefed the city police chief about the security measures and deployment of police force during his visit to the congregation. The CCPO was informed that at least 2,000 policemen besides 206 upper subordinates and nine officers of the rank of SP and DSP are deployed in and around the congregation site to ensure foolproof security. A temporary police headquarters has also been established close to the venue in order to facilitate the on-duty policemen.

Chaudhry Shafiq also directed the police force to ensure snap-checking of every vehicle at the special police pickets set up in the area. He also directed the officers to ensure video-recording of the participants at check-pots set up near the entry points and exit points.

The police were also directed to immediately ensure the deployment of snipers at all the police pickets in order to thwart any possible terror attempt. The police have also placed barriers ahead of the pickets to ensure slow and smooth flow of traffic during the snap-checking.

The CCPO also visited the parking lots and directed the police ensure proper inspection of each and every vehicle for it is parked at the stand.

On the orders of the CCPO, a monitoring room has also been established to monitor the activities and the movement of the participants. A great number of CCTV cameras are also installed at various points to keep a check on the movement of the participants to maintain peace, a police officer said. He further said that advance checking had already been started at Kasur boundary, Sundar areas, Raiwind localities, and other adjoining parts of the Raiwind City.

The Ijtima administration has also appealed to the participants and all the Muslims to say special prayers so that the country’s biggest congregations would be held peacefully with the grace of Almighty Allah. Elaborate arrangements have also been made for uninterrupted water and power supply at the venue.

A number of stalls and restaurants have also been set up around the site. The Pakistan Railways has run special trains from various destinations to Raiwind and back for both the phases. PIA and other airlines have also made special arrangements as a large number of people are coming from different parts of the country to attend the congregation. Thousands of students from various educational institutions and Madrassas have volunteered their services to make necessary arrangements at the venue.

Hundreds of traffic policemen are also deployed on the roads leading towards the venue to ensure smooth flow of traffic and security of the parking lots. Like the previous years, the congregation has been divided into two phases and the first phase would continue till Sunday afternoon.

A number of religious scholars and Ulema from Pakistan and abroad would address different sessions of the three-day congregation.