Lahore: For the first time, Pakistan has hinted that an operation could be launched against militants in Punjab on the pattern of the ongoing offensive in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan as authorities have arrested seven men for the carnage in two mosques in Lahore.
The prospects that such an operation could be in the offing was indicated by Interior Minister Rehman Malik while talking to City 42, a Lahore-based news channel.
Acknowledging that Punjab-based groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba had joined hands with the Taliban and al Qaeda, Malik said an operation could be launched against them in the southern part of Punjab.
"The terrorists who have been hiding in southern Punjab have now surfaced," said Malik. "Our action will be stronger now because we can`t tolerate such killings."
"There will be an operation in southern Punjab on the pattern of the tribal areas," Malik was quoted as saying by the channel.
Malik said groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba had joined hands with the Taliban and al Qaeda to destabilise Pakistan.
Pakistan government has been criticised for lacking the will to crack down on militants in Punjab, many of whom are in groups which started with government support to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 80s and 90s and India.
Members of these groups from Punjab had gone to the tribal areas and received training there.
"They then came back to Punjab and became part of sleeper cells. Those militants who were hiding in South Punjab are now surfacing," he said.
However, former premier Nawaz Sharif`s PML-N party, which rules the province, has never acknowledged the presence of militants in southern Punjab.
Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said there were no particular "pockets of militants" in southern Punjab that could be targeted.
"An operation on the pattern of the one underway in the tribal areas can never be envisaged in the southern or any other part of the province," Sanaullah said.
However, political parties have accused Sanaullah of having links with members of banned groups. During the campaign for a by-election in Jhang district in February, Sanaullah was seen openly moving around with leaders of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba, a notorious sectarian group that has often targeted the Shia minority.
The comments of the interior minister came days after the gruesome carnage carried out by the Punjab unit of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) in two mosques in Lahore in which 95 people belonging to the minority Ahmedia sect were killed.