LAHORE - An unprecedented cross-country intelligence operation is underway to comb out local and foreign elements who are playing or could play into the hands of terrorists, The Nation has learnt.
The mega operation is an important development in the efforts against terrorism. It is in fact the first major practical step being taken after the recent promulgation of the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, which provides for stern punishment to those involved in heinous crimes.
The grand information-gathering exercise involves collection of personal details of almost all the citizens of Pakistan and data sifting to identify “Grey People” – suspects and potential supporters of extremist forces who could assist terror activities in any way, informed security sources said on Sunday.
The operation is part of government’s three-pronged national security policy, which is in the final stages of formulation. Security sources added that coordinated effort through this exercise would help identify previously unknown potential terror supporters and those already known or under watch, and their ‘deactivation’ before they could pose a danger to the people and the state.
They said collection of fresh information about aliens living in different parts of the country illegally or on invalid or fake documents, besides such foreigners who move their abodes too frequently, is also part of the operation. Through this exercise, the security services would also collect information about the residence and nature of their businesses or jobs of the citizens.
The information gathered during this operation would be verified from Nadra record. The record of suspects would also be sought from the police stations concerned to know if he or she had been connected with extremist or criminal elements, or been involved in any such activity.
The exercise would also cover the operations of foreign funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with a focus on working in volatile regions of the country. The operation would also assist the security services to identify suspected foreign ‘contractors’ living in the country under any guise.
The operation would not only help identify ‘new faces’ directly involved in such heinous crimes as terrorism, sectarian violence and target killing but also their financial facilitators, handlers and people who provide them sanctuaries in settled areas. Fresh check would also be put on the people who were directly or indirectly involved in any activity of extremism in the past.
The operation would also make an effort to identify the sympathisers of various ideologies who are holding important positions in public and private sector, by running a background check on their political leanings. The background checks would cover the people who donate huge charity funds to various organisations.
Security sources said that a preliminary list of the Grey People who have already been identified has been forwarded to the high-ups. They added that three meetings of the security services have been held so far to review progress of the operation and consider options for its further extension. They said the ongoing information-gathering operation could be the most comprehensive exercise focusing on ‘deep sleeper cells’ and ‘deactivated cells’ which could create havoc if activated by their handlers.
Former interior secretary Tasneem Noorani, who is a security expert, when contacted, said that “information-gathering operation on this large scale will definitely prove fruitful to tackle the faceless enemy.”
He said secret police in Middle Eastern countries has general information on each resident in their city or region and the “security services of our country will face few chances of failure if they successfully complete this exercise and continue updating their information”.
Noorani said that the wave of terror could be curtailed by a good deal if the elements involved in terror activities are given exemplary punishment. To curb terrorism, he proposed giving a free hand to the security and law enforcement services and assuring non-interference at political or any other level.
When called, former Fata secretary and ex-Military Intelligence (MI) Balochistan Director Brigadier (r) Mehmood Shah said that cases of sectarianism, target killings in Karachi and other terror activities have different factors and they could be dealt with through adoption of different approaches, but any approach has to be based essentially on viable intelligence and information, especially about the new faces in the terror industry.
Shah said: “Though the ongoing information-gathering operation will bring good results to counter the terror,” we also need to fight this war on foreign relations level and appeal to our brotherly and friendly nations not to fuel sectarianism on our soil” as part of their proxy wars – a veiled reference to Saudi funding to extremist segments among Sunnis and Iranian backing to Shias in Pakistan.
Commenting over the role of foreign funded NGOs, he said when he was Fata secretary he had banned some of the organisations working there for their involvement in inappropriate activities. The former spymaster said that NGOs were a perfect cover across the world to gather information about a targeted area and help in execution of anti-state activities and sabotage. The local workers of the NGO are most of the times not even aware that they are being used by their foreign masters, he added.
Security sources told this scribe that around 100 ‘Grey Properties’, besides safe houses in posh areas of provincial and federal capitals, being used by the ‘CIA hired contact persons’ were identified in a previous information-gathering operation. That operation was launched to identify the ‘foreign contractors’ after the Raymond Davis episode, who had erected a network for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in parts of Punjab – especially South Punjab.
In that three-month hunt by the security services, scores of CIA contractors were ousted from the country. The sources added that the US desired to build a massive Consulate on 22-acres of land in Johar Town of Lahore, but the security services’ catch of CIA network pressed the government not to allow the US authorities to carry out this plan.