Islamabad: The PML-N-led government in Punjab has earned the ire of Pakistan`s powerful Army and security establishment because of its "failure" to crack down on terror groups like JeM of Maulana Masood Azhar and its "total denial" of the fact that the province is in militants` "line of fire”.
The Army and intelligence agencies conveyed their "serious concern" over the Punjab government`s failure to act against terrorists in the province on the basis of information provided to it during a meeting held recently in Lahore.
Senior intelligence officials also questioned the provincial government`s failure to crack down on militant bases identified by intelligence agencies, including the Bahawalpur seminary run by Maulana Masood Azhar of the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), `Dawn` newspaper reported today.
The intelligence officials raised questions about what the Punjab government has done to round up middle-and low-ranking activists and office-bearers of the militant groups or to confiscate hate material churned out by them.
"We have time and again told them to act against the Bahawalpur madrassah where a number of militants are hiding. But they are not ready to do so," one official said.
He alleged that Punjab government is "sitting on the fence" as far as sectarian and militant groups are concerned.
Over the past few days, the PML-N-led government in Punjab and PPP-led government at the centre have been engaged in a war of words over the failure of provincial authorities to prevent a string of major terrorist attacks, including the suicide bombing of the Data Darbar shrine in Lahore.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said a specific intelligence alert was issued to Punjab days before the attack on Data Darbar that militants could strike mosques or places of worship. On the other hand, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has alleged that federal intelligence and security agencies are not cooperating with authorities in Punjab.
Dawn reported that Army, which is spearheading counter-terrorism operations, and the PML-N are on the "warpath”.
The Army was particularly irked because of the PML-N`s inaction against the Punjabi Taliban, the report said.
During the recent meeting with the leadership of Punjab, the intelligence officials also discussed the "lax handling of detained terrorists”, especially of an attacker nabbed in an injured condition during the recent attack on two Ahmedi mosques in Lahore.
The attacker was allowed to communicate with his accomplices from his hospital bed on a mobile phone, and this allowed them to launch an attempt to free him from Lahore`s Jinnah Hospital.
Long before the attack on the Ahmedis, an alert was circulated by an intelligence agency warning that a group of militants led by hitherto unheard of Qari Daud had been tasked by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to attack the minority sect in Punjab.
However, this warning was not heeded, the report said.
The Dawn quoted sources in the national security apparatus as saying that they were worried that the PML-N government was in a "state of total denial" about the existence of the problem in Punjab, which was in the "militants` line of fire”.
The spat between the Punjab government and the Army took a serious turn after a newspaper carried a report based on leaks by the provincial authorities that said the Army and intelligence agencies were not cooperating with the PML-N government in investigations into terrorist attacks.
Senior officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, scoffed at the report.
"Nowhere in the world do spies stand in the witness box and give testimony," one of the officers was quoted as saying.
Investigators said most terrorist attacks in Punjab were linked to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Punjabi Taliban, in contrast to claims by certain quarters that the so-called "foreign hand" was involved in them, the report said.
The message from terrorist groups perpetrating the attacks is that the government should negotiate with militant organisations and stop its efforts to help the Afghan government reconcile with various warring factions, notably the Haqqani network, the report added.
Security officials said they felt encouraged by federal government`s position of not entertaining any such demands.
However, they said that they were taken aback by PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif`s recent remarks "articulating views similar to those of the Taliban and their sympathisers”.
Sharif recently told a news conference that the Pakistan government should initiate talks with militants who are willing to listen since the US has shown its willingness to hold negotiations with the Afghan Taliban.
A security analyst said militants always benefited from poor civilian intelligence, a politicised police force and de-motivated, poorly trained and ill-equipped local law-enforcement agencies in Punjab.
They now have a new advantage - those in the provincial political leadership, bureaucracy and law enforcement agencies are willing to turn a "blind eye to their activities”, he said.
The Punjab government, however, has denied that its senior leadership has met with intelligence officials.
Punjab Government`s public relations chief Raoof Hassan said he was not aware of any such meeting since it did not appear on the official schedule.