By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
March 26, 2018
Ten persons, including six Policemen, were killed and another 35 were injured in a suicide attack near a Police check post outside the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz (centre) at Raiwind Town in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, on March 14, 2018. A teenage suicide bomber blew himself up when a Policeman tried to stop him from entering the Markaz. At least 70,000 followers of Tablighi Jamaat were present at the annual congregation. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack and threatened more attacks on Police in retaliation for the killing of their “associates” in Punjab.
On January 15, 2018, a Police constable was killed by unidentified assailants in the Bharwal area of Hasanabdal Saddar Police Station jurisdiction in the Attock District of Punjab. The deceased was identified as Head constable Faizan.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Province has registered a total of seven Security Force (SF) fatalities in 2018 (data till March 25, 2018). During the corresponding period of 2017, Punjab also recorded for seven SF fatalities. Through 2017, there were 27 SF fatalities in Punjab, and 21 such fatalities in 2016, indicating a rising trend.
On the other hand, SFs killed 99 terrorists in 2017, as against 139 killed in 2016. Thus, though SFs were able to maintain a positive kill ratio through 2017, the success rate declined from 1:6.61 in 2016 to 1:3.66.
According to SATP four incidents of explosion were recorded in Punjab in 2017, as against two in 2016, though the resultant fatalities declined from 76 in 2016 to 50 in 2017. Punjab also witnessed three suicide attacks in 2017, up from one in 2016, though number of casualties dropped to 209 (49 killed and 160 injured) in 2017 from 375 (75 killed and 300 injured) in 2016.
Fatalities in Punjab: 2006-2018*
Source: SATP, *Data till March 25, 2018
Fatalities among civilians, however, recorded a steep decline: from 84 deaths in 2016 to 32 in 2017. This could be attributed to the launch of a Province-wide crackdown on February 19, 2017, against terrorist groups, following the February 13-suicide attack outside the Punjab Assembly building on Mall Road, Lahore, in which at least 14 persons, including eight civilians and six Policemen, were killed, and another 85 were injured. This crackdown forced the terrorists to concentrate their power against SFs, providing some relief to the civilian population.
On February 19, 2017, during a Provincial Apex Committee meeting chaired by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the Provincial Government asked the Federal Government to deploy Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) to combat terrorism. It requested the deployment of over 2,000 Rangers in the Province, with policing powers, to conduct Intelligence-based Operations (IBOs) against terrorists, wherever required and with full authority. On February 22, the Federal Government approved the request, and operations commenced.
Moreover, on the same day, February 22, the Pakistan Army launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (elimination of discord) across the country, including Punjab. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the army's media wing, described the Operation,
The effort entails conduct of Broad Spectrum Security / Counter-Terrorism (CT) operations by Rangers in Punjab, continuation of ongoing operations across the country, and focus on more effective border security management.
The Rangers conducted their first combing operation in the Rawalpindi area of Punjab on February 22. On December 18, 2018, Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) briefing the Senate on action taken by SFs under Operation Radd-ul-Fassad, disclosed that 13,011 operations had been conducted in the Punjab province. The total number of operations conducted in Punjab was almost three times the total number conducted in other areas combined: 4674 (Balochistan 1410, Sindh 2015, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) 1249]. Clearly, despite official claims that it remained ‘relatively peaceful’, Punjab had consolidated as a hub of terrorism.
Indeed, according to an April 23, 2017, report of the Ministry of Interior and Narcotics Control (MINC) there was at least 113 ‘most-wanted terrorists’ from various Districts of Punjab still in operation. The MINC document divides most-wanted terrorists’ into three categories: 62 Sunni terrorists, 29 Shia terrorists, and 22 potential suicide attackers (sect not mentioned). There is no report available in open sources to suggest how many of these 113 ‘most-wanted terrorists’ have since been killed.
The continuing policy of the Punjab Government in particular and Islamabad in general, of helping ‘state-owned’ terrorist formations, has created an environment where numerous terror outfits thrive. Indeed, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)-led by 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed, who carries a bounty of USD 10 million, continues to receive open support from the highest authorities of the land. In a statement released on December 30, 2017, for instance, the Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) justified Hafiz Saeed’s participation in a pro-Palestine rally, also attended by Palestinian Ambassador to Pakistan Walid Abu Ali, in Rawalpindi on December 29, 2017, declaring,
This public rally was attended by thousands of people from all walks of life. More than 50 speakers addressed the rally, including Hafiz Saeed. Contrary to the impression being created, UN proscription does not place any restrictions on the freedom of expression.
Moreover, JuD continues to operate freely from its headquarters at Muridke in Sheikhupura District of Punjab and other offices. According to media reports, the Punjab Government had started taking over all the moveable and immovable assets of the JuD and FIF in the province on February 14, 2018. The action was being taken in pursuance of an ordinance issued by President Mamnoon Hussain on February 12, amending the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, and allowing the state to take action against individuals and organizations proscribed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
However, an unnamed Punjab Government official was quoted as stating, on March 6, 2018,
Since the government has taken over the control of JuD headquarters in Lahore in mid last month [February], Saeed delivered three Friday sermons in three successive weeks there in the presence of a large number of his supporters. The government could only deploy its administrator at Al Qadsia while the JuD men are operating from there the way they used to… A similar arrangement was made at JuD's Muridke headquarters. The government has not barred Saeed and activists of his charities from using the JuD headquarters in Lahore and Muridke, and other offices of the two organizations [the other being FiF, Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation].
The officer further disclosed that that JuD and FiF were still freely using the banned groups' offices, despite Pakistan's claims that all the assets of the two formations have been seized and their bank accounts frozen.
Though terrorism related fatalities in the Punjab Province declined through 2017, after registering a steep increase in 2016, the deep roots of terror formations are so entrenched that long term respite from violence is not possible in the foreseeable future, particularly in view of the selective collusion of the state and its agencies. As long as the terrorism in Punjab - the very heart of Pakistan - persists, the overall situation across the country will remain troublesome.
Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is a Research Associate; Institute for Conflict Management
Source South Asia Intelligence Review