The Pakistan Army is finally going after militants in Punjab.
The Pakistan Army, backed with intelligence, has finally gone after militant cells in the Punjab, something that the much-harassed people of the province have been calling for. It took another massacre of children at Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park on Easter Sunday, for the unleashing of the Army’s dragnet in Lahore, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Multan. Scores of suspects have been rounded up to face antiterrorism courts.
Some lessons have been learned. After the Rangers’ operation, Karachi’s deeply criminalized metropolis has been “normalized” up to 50 percent and the terrorist underworld has been forced to retreat. Thousands of criminals and target-killers are in custody awaiting trial. In some ways, the Punjab will be less of a nettle to grasp. Home to over 60 terrorist gangs, it has fewer “political” complications. Its law and order situation is close to normal; none of its cities compares with Karachi, Peshawar or Quetta. The ruling party in the Punjab has not succumbed to disorder the same way as the two parties elected to the Sindh Assembly.
However, the Punjab has certainly been the breeding ground of now-banned organizations that fed into the chaos of Karachi and are found in the rest of the Sindh province. In South Punjab, a shady madrassah network has been allowed to proliferate without much oversight. Over time, the territory they dominate has started responding more to their authority than that of the state. The region is the midway sanctuary to Al Qaeda and Islamic State warriors heading for the lucrative underworld of Karachi.
In Central and Northern Punjab, administrative neglect has allowed heretofore “normal” urban centers to become radicalized into sectarian and terrorist cesspools. The recent arrests made in Faisalabad and Sialkot, and the migration of a number of Lahore families to Iraq and Syria to join I.S., have shocked the Punjabi population. Capital Lahore has not been spared. Al Qaeda and Taliban have caused kidnappings of prominent citizens for ransom through its sleeper cells; even the boundary checkpost of Wagah has been attacked to challenge the sovereignty of the state. Hostels attached to universities have been found to be the hotbeds of Al Qaeda affiliates.
In some ways, the antiterrorist military campaign in the Punjab will have positive effect on the earlier Rangers’ operation in Karachi. The “pipeline” of Punjab will no longer be there. Some of the lessons learned in Karachi will come in handy as the Army goes after elements engaged in violence.