ISLAMABAD: The federal government is planning a massive swoop to cleanse the impoverished southern Punjab of terrorist groups, particularly those fuelling sectarianism, as part of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism.
Although intelligence-based targeted raids have been ongoing in the region for some time, the country’s civil and military authorities have given the nod for a decisive push against sectarian organisations in the area.
A senior government official familiar with the development told Global Sentinel that the decision to intensify and expand the operation in south Punjab was taken last month during a high-level huddle of the civil and military leadership. The official, who did not want to be named in the report, refused to disclose operational details of the offensive, saying it might compromise the government’s plan.
The decision to go after sectarian outfits in South Punjab was taken after intelligence reports warned that the region could become a potential breeding ground for groups such as the ultra-extremist Islamic State, also known by its Arabic acronym Da’ish. Rahim Yar Khan, Jhang, Chinot, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur are considered hotbed of several sectarian outfits, which are ideologically more aligned with Da’ish.
The official said the security agencies had recently picked up over a dozen suspects from south Punjab, who were exploring the possibility of recruiting for Da’ish. Pakistan has denied the organised presence of IS on its soil but acknowledged that it is not oblivious to the potential threat posed by the ultra-extremist group that has set up a self-styled Islamic caliphate on large swathes of land in Syria and Iraq.
During a recent visit to the United Kingdom, army chief General Raheel Sharif also cautioned against the emergence of new terrorist groups in a pointed reference to attempts by Da’ish to make inroads into this part of the world. The army chief, however, said Pakistan was well aware of the threat and would never allow even a shadow of Da’ish to fall on its soil.
The official said the security agencies have identified south Punjab as a potential region where Da’ish could find some support in Pakistan. “That is why the government has decided to go all-out against sectarian outfits in the area,” the official added.