Punjab government has hiven nod on asking the paramilitary forces “The Rangers” to help tackle terrorist attacks in the province — Pakistan’s heartland and bastion of power – both civil and military
MAMOSA Report — The government in Punjab – Pakistan’s largest province and its heartland ruled by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother Shahabaz Sharif, has decided to seek support from the paramilitary forces, “The Rangers”, to combat terrorism in the province days after a suicide attack in its capital Lahore killed at least 15 people and wounded as many as 100.
Chaired by the Chief Minister, the meeting of the provincial apex committee meeting for internal security was attended by the National Security Adviser Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Janjua, Pakistan Army Corps Commander Lahore Lt Gen Sadiq Ali, Provincial Anti-terrorism Minister Col (r) Muhammad Ayub, Director General Punjab Rangers Maj Gen Azhar Naveed Hayat, Inspector General Police Punjab Mushtaq Sukhera and other high-level civil and military officials.
On Friday evening, Mr. Sharif claimed the provincial government had arrested a facilitator and eliminated the terrorist network involved in the suicide attack.
The suicide attack on Lahore’s Mall Road was claimed by the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an offshoot of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) operating from safe havens inside Afghanistan on the country’s western border, sources claimed.
Pakistan has closed its border with Afghanistan, fired a barrage of artillery into its neighbor’s territory, conducted a “surgical strike” and staged a major domestic crackdown on militant groups, reportedly killing more than 100 suspects, in response to the deadliest terror attacks in the country in years — 8 in 5 days in all four provinces. Some were claimed by the Islamic State, reports said.
Thursday’s suicide bombings hit one of Pakistan’s most revered Sufi shrines, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sindh, killing at least 88 people and injuring scores more.
Scenes of the carnage in Sindh province sent shock waves up through the Pakistani government. It blamed the Jama-ul-Ahrar group, operating out of Afghanistan, for being “behind these barbaric acts of terrorism,” according to a statement from the office of Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs. Pakistan said it lodged a strong protest with Afghanistan.
In an unusual move, Afghan embassy officials were summoned to the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi – not to the Foreign Office in Islamabad – and given a list of 76 “most wanted” terrorists that Pakistan wants apprehended immediately and handed over.
Security forces have been given special orders to maintain strict vigilance all along the border, according to a statement by the Pakistani military’s media wing.
“The border has been closed since last night due to security reasons. No cross-border or unauthorized entry will be allowed into Pakistan from Afghanistan,” the statement said.
Authorities also issued shoot-at-sight orders for those found trying to cross over the Pak-Afghan border illegally, reports say.
Shah Hussain Murtazawi, spokesman for Afghanistan’s deputy president, lamented the decision, telling VOA: “Closing borders does not solve the problems.”
Major border crossings at Spin Boldak in the south and Torkham in the north were closed, with troops standing guard. U.S.-led NATO forces heavily depend on both for their logistics supply in Afghanistan. Long lines of trucks and cars were backed up on both sides, hoping the closure would be short.
Tasneem Noorani, a former Pakistani interior secretary and analyst, said the government was under pressure to take action.
“I think in the present situation, government’s reaction is in the right direction,” he said. “At least [people] would see that authorities are doing something.”
Noorani said the government may have been lulled into a false sense of security by a relative calm over the last few months following an aggressive stance toward terrorists over the previous two years.
“The government and military might have thought that [terrorists] gave up [their activities],” Noorani said. “In fact, that was not the case.”
The military issued statement saying the army chief had ordered security operations against terrorists across the country that already had killed more than 100 suspected militants. In addition, retaliatory strikes were carried out in Afghan villages across the border.
“The intelligence agencies are making progress to unearth networks behind the recent terrorism incidents,” the statement said.
However, politicians, defense analysts and columnists expressed reservations over the military actions, calling it an “emotional” response.
Syed Iftikhar ul Hassan, a member of the National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N), suggested that the terror attacks have a bigger purpose as part of a “conspiracy against the government” to halt army operations against militants and to derail a planned “Economic Corridor with China.”
“There was a huge network that is being fixed and soon things will be all right,” he said.
(Based on reporting in Pakistan Tribune, VOA News, Dawn, Reuters, New York Times and Washington Post)