Punjab ignoring CID report on terror groups – By Nasir Jamal and Shakeel Ahmed
LAHORE: The Shahbaz Sharif government appears to be reluctant to take action against the banned sectarian and Jihadi organisations operating in Punjab in spite of evidence that these may have been involved in many terrorist attacks in the province recently and may have strong links with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The Sharif government’s unwillingness to deal with the growing menace of terrorism in the province, including its southern districts, is in defiance of the evaluation by its own counter-terrorism agencies. A recent secret document based on data collected in south Punjab finds that a number of banned groups are carrying out a “sustained drive” to recruit fresh cadre from among the “poverty stricken, illiterate and unemployed” youth in the region.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik says that terrorists taking refuge in southern Punjab were “now active” to “destabilise the country after the defeat of the Taliban in Fata”. “They — Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ), the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Jaish-i-Mohammad (JM) — are allies of the Taliban and Al Qaeda…,” he was quoted to have said.
The minister also hinted at an operation in south Punjab on the pattern of the one carried out in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) “because nearly 700 out of the more than 1,700 people with suspected links with the banned terrorist and sectarian outfits belonged to southern Punjab”.
“Army operations are required only where there are no-go areas and there is no such situation in any part of Punjab,” Rana Sanaullah, Punjab Law Minister and a trusted aide of Shahbaz Sharif, rebuffed the interior minister. The provincial minister, who attracted wide criticism for hobnobbing with the leader of the banned SSP’s during an election campaign in Jhang a couple of months ago, dubbed Mr Malik’s statement an attempt to destabilise the province (and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government).
Rana Sanaullah has rejected demands for an operation in south Punjab, but promises to bring to justice those involved in terrorist activities like the ones that took place in Lahore during the last four days.
List of suspects
Talking to Dawn, police officials of Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan expressed their ignorance of the list of people suspected of their links with the banned sectarian and Jihadi organisations as mentioned by Mr Malik.
Regional Police Officer of Dera Ghazi Khan Ahmed Mubarrak said police had no idea of the list of the members of the banned organisations like JM and LJ in south Punjab. “Right now the police are only watching the activities of people placed in the fourth schedule rather than seeking any information about the people the (federal) minister has spoken of,” he added.
RPO of Multan Arif Ikram said the police were watching and provided figures to back his assertion: there are 275 people placed on the fourth schedule in the Multan region, besides 380 who came back from Jihad in Afghanistan.
Mr Ikram, however, conceded that an integrated system bringing together various agencies was needed to enable the police to come up with the right picture about the potential terrorists’ activities. The federal government, he observed, was being assisted by different secret agencies while the police, being run by the province, had limited resources at its command, depending largely on its CID wing. Owing to this the federal government may have more information about such elements as compared to the police, he said. He spoke of a new system that the government was introducing for the monitoring of Madressahs but didn’t elaborate what this system would entail.
A senior police official in Lahore says the government is preparing its strategy to deal with terrorism but he could not discuss it with media. “But let me tell you one thing: the involvement of some people from south Punjab in terrorist attacks does not mean that this region has become a hub of Taliban,” he said. “Far from it; there are no training centres in this region. The terrorist networks are spread across the country. Only some terrorists belong to this part of the country. Some, as in case of Abdullah, a terrorist arrested from Lahore for attacking the Qadianis, had left this part years ago and settled elsewhere,” he said.
A secret report – Talibanisation in Southern Punjab – by the Crime Investigation Department (CID) acknowledges that “the terrorist activities that have taken place in Punjab in the past couple of years invariably prove direct/indirect links with activists’ ex-proscribed organisations. This phenomenon does not qualify as spread of Talibanisation in society”.
State of denial
The question then is: Is the PML-N government waiting for a ‘standard’ Talibanisation of the area to start before it moves to control the situation?
“The Punjab government is living in a state of denial. It should first admit that the groups carrying out terrorist activities (in the province) are there and operating out of south Punjab before it can take action against them and protect people from them,” defence and political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told Dawn on Tuesday.
He regretted that the Shahbaz Sharif government was pursuing a policy of ‘reaction’ rather than ‘action’ (against terrorists). Even if reaction is what the Punjab government must restrict itself to, doesn’t it have enough proof of a simmering situation in the south to react to? Surely, only action now can prevent a full-blown operation in future.
As is pointed out in the secret report quoted above, groups and organisations like SSP and JM and their breakaway factions like LJ and Jamaatul Furqan are quite active in southern districts of Punjab.
“Most analyses have acknowledged the presence of strong sympathies for Jihadi and sectarian elements in south Punjab,” a publicity-shy Islamabad-based security analyst said.
Until a few years back, according to him, the militant groups operating out of south Punjab and elsewhere in the province and the Taliban from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had different agenda and focus. “But the Musharraf government’s action against the sectarian Punjabi outfits and reduction in intensity of Jihad in Kashmir under the US pressure led them to seek refuge in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and obtain financial assistance and training from the TTP. That was the beginning of their joint operations within the country,” he said.
A police official in Lahore said the police were “alert to the threat and doing our best to control it”.
Right now, the people of Shahabz Sharif’s Lahore would be entitled to say that the police’s best is not quite good enough.
Wednesday, 02 Jun, 2010