Lahore: Banned militant groups in Pakistan’s Punjab province are gaining strength with every passing day after having joined hands with the local Taliban who operate in the region with ease, police officials have said.
Several members of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) from southern Punjab, who fought in the Afghan war, have tied up with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to carry out attacks against important installations, the officials said.
"This Pashtun-Punjabi alliance of extremists was also behind the attack on the army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi," a senior Crime Investigation Department (CID)
He was referring to an attempt by terrorists over the weekend to storm the army’s headquarters. Eight soldiers were killed in the attack while nine terrorists were gunned down by commandos.
"The facilitators of the terrorists who carried out attacks on the Inter-Services Intelligence building, the Naval War College, the Federal Investigation Agency office, the Sri Lankan cricket team and the police training school in Lahore were from organisations operating in Punjab," said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"These forces have primarily joined hands to target the security forces," he added. Most activists of banned militant groups from Pakistan`s Punjab province have taken refuge in Waziristan tribal region and they come to Punjab to carry out attacks and to recruit new cadres, the officials said.
The CID has suggested to the government that a strict vigil should be maintained on seminaries, especially in parts of southern Punjab like Bahawalpur, Bhakkar, Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rahimyar Khan districts, as militants are focussing on madrassas for recruits, the officials said.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its allies have developed a core group in these five impoverished districts where the LeJ and JeM have several seminaries. "The function of the core group is to ensure maximum recruitment from seminaries and to train and equip militants with weapons," an officer said.
The officials said one of the main recruitment centres for the Taliban is a seminary run in Bahawalpur by JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar, who was freed from an Indian prison in exchange for passengers of an Indian Airlines plane hijacked to Kandahar.
The CID, in its latest report to the Punjab government, had also warned that terrorists would use military and police uniforms in their attacks. The terrorists who targeted the Army’s General Headquarters were disguised as soldiers.
Important religious and political figures and key installations are on the hit-list of the terrorists, the report warned. The local facilitators of terrorists have become a serious challenge for the Punjab government, which lacks resources to effectively counter their operations in the province.
Though a senior police officer of Bahawalpur was not in favour of launching a "military-style" campaign in southern Punjab, he called for an "effective police operation" based on actionable intelligence reports on the activities of militants.
"I see reports about a military operation becoming inevitable in southern Punjab as mere propaganda. There is no comparison between the militants holed up in southern Punjab and those in Swat or Waziristan.”
"The hardcore Punjabi militants have settled in Waziristan but they have roots here which need to be cut through a proper police operation by the Punjab government," the senior police officer said.