Lahore: Pakistan`s Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer has alleged that the PML-N-led provincial government had recently released two top leaders of the banned Sipah-e-Sihaba Sunni militant group, apparently to garner support for the upcoming polls.
Taseer, a nominee of President Asif Ali Zardari, has shot off a letter to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, complaining that such acts ran contrary to the nation`s declared policy of confronting the terrorists and extremists.
Though the PML-N and Zardari`s PPP share power in the Pakistan`s key province, the action by the Governor could spark a fresh sparring between the two parties.
"I have credible reports that two convicted operatives of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, namely Talib Qiamat and Saddique Jopoo, who were arrested by an intelligence agency in 1992, have been released by the Punjab government ahead of the by-elections in Jhang," Taseer said in the letter.
Copies of the letter have also been sent to President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, according to reports here.
Both Sipah-e-Sahaba activists were involved in sectarian killings in Jhang district, located 150 km from Lahore, which is considered a stronghold of the banned group.
The by-elections are scheduled for March 10. Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik this week said that Sipah-e-Sihaba had links with Tehrik-e-Taliban and both the groups were involved in terror activities in the country.In his letter, Taseer also pointed out the
Sipah-e-Sahaba is a banned religious group with "notorious overt and covert connections to Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists" operating in Pakistan and targeting armed forces, citizens and state institutions.
He also asked the chief minister to remove provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah from his post for "overtly patronising the Sipah-e-Sahaba".
Sanaullah had last month travelled with Sipah-e-Sahaba leader Maulana Ahmed Ludhyanvi in a police vehicle while campaigning for the by-elections in Jhang.
"The Law Minister`s action is not only casting serious doubts about the credentials of the minister but also jeopardising the Punjab government`s declared stand vis-à-vis the federal government`s policy on terrorism," Taseer said.
"It has also sent shockwaves to all the quarters concerned with the present security situation in the country. After the visit of the Law Minister (to Jhang), flags of the banned organisations are proliferating all over Jhang and Sargodha with no attempt by local police to remove them," the Governor said.
According to Taseer, Sanaullah`s activities clearly flouted the provision of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 and he is guilty of an offence under several provisions.
If he is charged and convicted under these provisions, he could be imprisoned for not less than one year and not more than five years and also ordered to pay a fine.
Sanaullah`s actions were also raised by several lawmakers in parliament and the federal government has sought a report on the incident from authorities in Punjab.