Operation in Punjab – long overdue but better late than never


    The need to act against the actual ‘facilitators’


    According to Ayaz, the government has a comfort level with current COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa, and therefore the civil-military relations are better than before. This might be the reason for them agreeing to finally giving a go ahead to the anti-terror operation, he said


    The Punjab government sought assistance of paramilitary border-security force Rangers to crack down on terrorists in the province following a fresh wave of terrorism across the country that claimed over 100 lives within a week.

    A full-fledged operation against terrorist groups based in Punjab was long overdue, but the provincial government had always been in denial about existence of terrorists’ safe havens in the province. It is said that the PML-N led provincial government was reluctant to seek help of the military in efforts against terrorism because then its own ability would have come into question.

    Despite a number of attacks in Lahore and other areas of the province over the years, the government officials kept saying that Punjab is free of any “no-go areas” and that no operation is needed in the province.

    In 2010, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif had asked the Taliban to ‘spare’ Punjab because he shares their ideology. The ruling party received a lot of backlash for the CM’s statement particularly from politicians belonging to smaller provinces that were on the forefront of fight against terror.

    Govt finally coming out of denial mode?

    It won’t be wrong to say that the policy of the provincial government towards the issue of terrorism has always been that of denial and inaction. Religious seminaries in the Punjab province are involved in hate speech and spread of extremist views but the authorities never did anything to address the problem.

    There are quite a few terror groups based in Punjab including anti-Shi’a organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) that vows to “rid Pakistan of the Shi’a”. The operation should have been launched when an LeJ-backed candidate who practiced hate speech throughout his campaign won a Punjab Assembly seat from the Jhang city in the by-polls. A sectarian hate monger who received votes in the name of hatred was able to make it to the assembly. None of that should have been taken lightly.

    Jam’at ud Dawa (JuD) of Hafiz Saeed, an anti-India organisation, allegedly enjoys backing of the military establishment because of its anti-India stance. Headquartered in the capital of Punjab, the JuD operated across the country until the recent house arrest of Hafiz Saeed. It is said that the decision to place Saeed under house arrest was made under the pressure of the new US administration and that it is mere eyewash because the outfit has not really been disbanded.

    Whether the Rangers operation will include crackdown on groups like the JuD is yet to be seen.

    Time to identify the actual facilitators

    Not too long ago, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar held a meeting with members of sectarian terror outfit Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jam’at (ASWJ), which is considered the political wing of the LeJ. The minister heard their ‘grievances’ about crackdown on religious organisations and had assured the outfit’s chief Ahmed Ludhianvi that his group would not be targeted under the crackdown.

    Nisar responded to the opposition’s criticism over his meetings with extremists and said that sectarian outfits should not be equated with terrorist organisations and that there is no harm in meeting the leaders of banned sectarian groups.

    Civil and military leaders quite often use the word ‘facilitators’ while referring to those who enable the terrorists to carry out their activities. Isn’t holding meetings with the terror outfits’ leaders and assuring them of the government’s support equivalent to ‘facilitating’ them?

    Other leaders of Pakistan Muslim League–N (PML-N) including Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah have allegedly been collaborating with members of banned sectarian outfits for their election campaign in areas where these groups have a following.

    No matter how many operations the law enforcing agencies launch, if the political leaders continue to have a soft corner for the terrorists and their apologists, things won’t change. If the government is serious, it should act against the enablers and apologists of terrorists present in its own ranks.

    Is ‘good, bad terrorists’ policy over yet?

    The Pakistani establishment is accused of supporting terror groups that are using the country’s soil to launch attacks in other countries but are not carrying out activities inside Pakistan. It is about time the authorities realised that this strategy is counterproductive. If you set your neighbour’s house on fire, the flames of the fire will not spare your house either. The country’s leadership should have learnt this lesson by now.

    What took them so long?

    “The provincial government shied away from taking action against any terror group and religious seminaries involved in terror because they thought the turmoil will increase and their ability to control law and order will be questioned”, said political analyst Ayaz Amir.

    According to Ayaz, the government has a comfort level with current COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa, and therefore the civil-military relations are better than before. This might be the reason for them agreeing to finally giving a go ahead to the anti-terror operation, he said.

    “Many politicians in Punjab form local alliances with sectarian outfits particularly in districts like Jhang where the sectarian organisations have a vote bank, but to reduce it to the level of PML-N is wrong because other political parties like PPP and PTI have also been seeking support of these groups”, said analyst Raza Rumi.

    “It is also well known that PML-N leaders have links with sectarian organisations and it would now depend on how well both Punjab chief minister and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would tackle their own party members and their affiliations with groups that need to be acted upon. At the same time, we should remember that the Punjab police did lodge operation against the LeJ in 2015-2016”.

    It is seen that terrorist groups start operating with different names after being banned. For the operation to succeed, the authorities must also act against sister organisations of terror groups.

    “The problem with the sectarian outfits relates to Pakistan’s security policy and the way it has lined itself with Saudi Arabia since the 1980s. A shift is needed at that level. One group is crushed and the other one appears because there is space given by the state’s security policy for such groups to operate”, Raza added.

    DNA spoke to Punjab Minister for Counterterrorism Sardar Ayub Khan, who denied the accusations of the government having a soft corner for terrorist groups.

    He said the Rangers would conduct operation with the help of Counterterrorism Department (CTD) and action would be across the board.

    “The violent attacks had decreased in the last one year, therefore we didn’t feel the need for such an operation earlier”, he said, when asked why it took the government so long to take the decision.

    “I don’t see why there is a problem if the government has sought the Rangers’ help. Army and Rangers are our own institutions. We intend to work with them to restore peace in the province”, the minister told DNA.

    The anti-terror operation in Punjab can only succeed if it targets all terrorist groups regardless of their ‘good’ or ‘bad’ status. Political leadership should also work on a counter-extremist intervention and all religious seminaries in the province should be monitored and streamlined to check the spread of culture that promotes intolerance and extremism.