It’s time for the Army to launch a full-scale military operation in Pakistan’s most populous province.
On the night of Nov. 24, TV anchor Kamran Khan discussed the post-General Raheel Sharif Pakistan with a retired general, general Tariq Khan, from the tribal area of Tank. As the discussion turned on the continuity of the outgoing Army chief’s policy, the guest thought that after Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the Army must be allowed to go after terrorist havens in Punjab. It was implied that the operation couldn’t be extended to Punjab because of lack of consensus between the GHQ and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Anchor Khan suggested that Punjab was relatively at peace and possibly didn’t require an anti-terrorism operation, to which general Khan countered that terrorists in Sindh had their base in Punjab. It is not concealed from anyone that there are safe havens of Al Qaeda-connected groups in South Punjab that have either been exempted from action through political compromise or judicial acceptance of their changed names. Several districts of South Punjab are dominated by the banned Jaish-e-Mohammed and Sipah-e-Sahaba, supplying nearly 5,000 warriors to the Taliban’s war in Afghanistan, Waziristan and Swat.
Jaish leader Masud Azhar has run a training camp of warriors in Cholistan, funded by Al Qaeda. He frequently visited the Taliban from Bahawalpur and met Al Qaeda leaders on the Afghan border. Malik Ishaq of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, once in jail for killing dozens of people, belongs to Rahimyar Khan. He used to rule the territory from jail while witnesses against him either got killed or absconded.
Thousands of warriors went to join the war in the tribal areas from Bahawalpur’s Madrassa Usman-o-Ali, established by Masud Azhar. Governor Salmaan Taseer’s son was kidnapped from Lahore by Punjabi Taliban and taken to North Waziristan. The spread of the renamed Sipah-e-Sahaba in Sindh and Karachi originates in Punjab, making it important to initiate a sweeping operation against terrorists in Punjab—regardless of political hedging.