Should there be an operation like the one being underway in Sindh, especially Karachi, in Punjab as well? If you say Yes, then the immediate question arises: is the situation in any part of Punjab as critical as Karachi? If you say No, the question on the heel is: are there no hotbeds of terrorists in Punjab and what about the arrests of Islamic State (IS) activists in Sialkot last month?

The hype about a Rangers operation in Punjab does not go away from public circles. On November 26, 2015, during an Apex committee meeting, Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif was requested to deploy Rangers in the districts of Punjab, especially South Punjab including Rajanpur, Rahim Yar Khan, DG Khan and tri-border areas of the province. This was because the police doesn’t have the ability to deal with hardened militants in these areas, where they have established no go-areas as well, says one of the corps commander who was part of the meeting. It does not end here; again on January 13, 2016 during an Apex committee meeting when the Pathankot incident was discussed, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was also told by the Military Intelligence (MI) that “the deployment of Rangers in Punjab is important to deal with terrorists effectively.”

Again on February 4, 2016 during a briefing to prime minister at ISI headquarters about the hideouts of terrorists it was again emphasized by the Army Chief Raheel Sharif and the military establishment that “if we want to eliminate the terrorists Rangers and military operations are needed to be carried out in the entire country and especially in Punjab.”

Even though the security and law enforcement agencies are emphasizing on the need for Rangers operations across the country, but the provincial government considers that it is not required in Punjab.

Now the million dollar question: is Rangers operation required in South Punjab where the terrorist have developed there hideouts? Obviously, yes. The basic problem is that the Punjab government is not ready to admit that the kind of steps taken in other parts of the country, to eliminate terrorists and get rid of institutions which promotes sectarian violence, are required in Punjab as well. The government is not ready to admit that there is a problem in South Punjab and other districts of Punjab although we have reliable information from the intelligence sources that the breeding grounds of all the leading sectarian organizations is in Punjab.

They should maybe decide that National Action Plan will only be implemented for certain areas of Karachi, KP or the tribal areas, where there is a problem. But it gives an impression that Punjab is different from other parts of Pakistan where the National Action Plan to eliminate terrorists is not implemented.

In my opinion it is a very critical situation, because extremism and terrorism cannot be eliminated from Pakistan unless we target the roots of these terrorist organizations.

The other question which needs to be answered: is the Punjab government’s stance that Rangers operation in Punjab is not required and Counter Terrorism Department is equipped to deal with terrorists justified? No, certainly not. Little or no action has been taken against the banned militant outfits in Punjab since the start of National Action Plan. The banned militant outfits including LeT, SSP, ASWJ and LeJ are openly collecting funds and recruiting youth without any hindrance.

All of these factors raise serious questions over Punjab government’s sincerity to move against ideological bases of terrorist outfits. NAP implementation in Punjab has not made much progress so far other than the police encounter of Malik Ishaq, the former LeJ leader, and arrests of few hard-line clerics.

According to my sources, Intelligence Bureau (IB) wrote a letter to security branch of Punjab police mentioning that LeJ is reorganizing itself in Punjab with a new name Lashkar-e-Yammama and they are training newly recruited youth in different parts of Punjab including Lahore, Sialkot, Jhang, Bahawalpur, Rajanpur and other districts of Punjab. This is extremely dangerous as we might see a series of sectarian incidents in the coming days. These banned militant outfits are receiving funds from foreign countries including Saudi Arabia, other Arab countries and India which are fighting their proxy wars within Pakistan.  

These banned militant outfits are also likely to merge with Islamic State (IS) because their ultimate goals are the same. Both SSP and LeJ have also been providing logistics support to global terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, TTP, IS and Jundullah.

So, if we want Zarb-e-Azb to be effective there is no other way out but to carry out military and Rangers operation across the province because the police in Punjab do not have the resources or the capacity to deal with the hardened criminals. Secondly, it is badly politicized and the Punjab government, especially the chief minister, considers them to be his private’ servants’.

According to my intelligence sources, there are more than 235 breeding grounds of terrorist organizations present in Punjab, which are giving militancy training and brainwashing the youth of this country. But as part of their strategy they seem to be underground, as they can see the Rangers operation in Sindh, which is in full swing. So, in such a scenario should we stop taking action against them and relax? Because that’s what the Punjab government is doing at the moment. One of their key ministers Rana Sanaullah said in a TV talk show that Punjab is effectively fighting the war against terrorism and all the targets of Zarb-e-Azb are being met. “Counter-terrorism force is achieving the targets to eliminate terrorists effectively with complete dedication,” said Sanaullah.

It cannot be ruled out that Rana Sanaullah is friends with Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, the leader of the banned SSP and LeJ, as he had also formed a political alliance with them in the elections. Sanaullah is on record as defending, allying with, and praising SSP leaders.

According to an official document shared with the lower house of parliament recently, the government said that Punjab had closed only two madrassas despite having well over 10,000 seminaries. On the other hand, Sindh, which followed a ‘zero tolerance policy’, has shut down 167 seminaries which were suspected to have links with militants.

Providing a breakup of the 13,000 seminaries in Punjab, government figures showed that most of the madrassas were located in the south Punjab, while Multan had the largest concentration of seminaries among the cities. North Punjab had approximately 2,000 seminaries, while 4,000 are located in central Punjab. A majority, around 7,000 madrassas, were located in south Punjab hosting around 70 per cent of all seminary students in the province. In cities, Multan topped the list with 1,108 seminaries, followed closely by Lahore with 1,102 seminaries followed by Muzaffargarh and Rahim Yar Khan with 900 and 811 seminaries respectively. Faisalabad had 483 madrassas while Sargodha had 433.

The government announced a year ago to register and madrassas which was an important part of the twenty-point National Action Plan (NAP), but it seems that PML-N is now reluctant to take action against the seminaries having ties with militants. As many as 840 Ahle Hadith seminaries were operating in Punjab of which 408 were registered, but 432 were unregistered, which is a large number.

​Hence, integrated and robust collaboration among Police, IB and ISI at all levels is even more important. Establish Joint Intelligence Sharing and Analysis Centres (JISAC) at Federal, Provincial and District levels to improve counter terrorism response, better fight organised crime, and maintain order and security.