It is time the Punjab government accepted the obvious and took urgent steps to dismantle the jihadi network whose tentacles are spreading throughout the province.
Southern Punjab has long been seen by independent observers as a hub for Punjabi militants who maintain close ties with the Taliban and travel to the tribal belt for both training and combat. The traffic, in fact, is two-way with Punjabi militants providing safe haven to Taliban commanders and fighters as and when needed. Yet, despite these clear linkages, the authorities in Lahore continue to deny the existence of the Punjabi Taliban. At the same time, the provincial law minister insists he did nothing wrong when he canvassed votes for a by-election in the company of known Jhang-based militants. This lingering state of denial is strengthening the hands of terrorists and jeopardising the security of not just Punjab but the country as a whole.
Two recent developments ought to stir the Punjab government into action. It was reported in the press on Monday that the Jhang police have registered an FIR against the district head of the outlawed Jaish-i-Mohammad for playing host to Taliban commanders when they visit the area. The FIR is based on police intelligence-gathering which found that the Taliban network is gaining ground rapidly in southern Punjab through the recruitment and fund-raising efforts of local militants in Jhang and nearby districts. Also on Monday, a Punjabi Taliban commander from Dera Ghazi Khan ‘surrendered’ to the Punjab police, ostensibly because he could no longer live with the knowledge that the suicide attacks he orchestrated had killed a large number of bystanders.
What more will it take to convince the provincial government that the Punjabi Taliban are a reality that cannot be wished away? Forget media reports, which authorities across the land routinely dismiss when the news doesn’t suit their taste. Remember that the Punjab police itself believe that militants operating under the Taliban umbrella are growing in strength. The provincial authorities can no longer evade this issue and deny the obvious. If they do, many could be prompted to ask where their sympathies lie.
Wednesday, 19 May, 2010