The military-led operation to root out terrorists can help re-establish the writ of the state.
It is payback time for terrorists ensconced in South Punjab. The military’s Inter Services Public Relations wing announced on April 6 that a combined Rangers-Punjab Police operation was underway against “terrorists and criminals who have taken refuge in the riverine areas of Rahim Yar Khan and Rojhan.” The Army has already taken into custody Masood Azhar of the Bahawalpur-based internationally banned terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad, to general public approval. The latest intelligence-based operation is failsafe as it tackles the jihadist network in the region.
South Punjab lies along the border with India, often called the strategically vulnerable “narrow midriff” of Pakistan. It comprises 13 districts having a total population of approximately 27 million. These districts include Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, Bhakker, Dera Ghazi Khan, Jhang, Khanewal, Layyah, Lodhran, Multan, Muzaffargarh, Rahim Yar Khan, Rajanpur, and Vehari. The inspiration for violence comes from Jhang, which lies in central Punjab and is the birthplace of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba.
Once the pleasure dome of Arab princes, and hideout of Al Qaeda terrorists pretending to fight the jihad in Afghanistan, South Punjab has more madrassahs per square mile than anywhere else in Pakistan. For instance, Lahore with its population of 10 million has 1,100 madrassahs; Rahim Yar Khan in South Punjab, the town ruled by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has nearly 900 with a population of only 3 million.
Allowing South Punjab’s “nonstate actors” to carry on has forced the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government in Punjab to live in sin with the terrorists. Punjab’s law minister, Rana Sanaullah, has been famously in denial of this unholy wedlock and today stands gratefully disabused by the operation. When Sanaullah said there were “no terrorist havens in South Punjab,” the region was in fact the mainspring of the Taliban-linked terrorists.
In May 2010, police report no. 320 lodged in Jhang depicted the grim reality. The FIR stated: “Taliban commanders often come to the city on their way to southern Punjab as the network of Tehreek-e-Taliban is fast expanding in the region.” Not only was the Taliban riding on the jihadist bandwagon in South Punjab, radical madrassah elements were leaking into Sindh to bring about a social change there in favor of religion-mixed crime that astounds most observers today. By recognizing South Punjab as the hub of terror, the latest joint operation promises to reestablish the writ of the state lost to elements attracting international sanctions.