Half-Hearted Security Operations in Punjab Do Little to Restrain Taliban Attacks

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 31

Aftermath of the Data Darbar attacks in Punjab

Nobody in the Punjab security establishment was aware of how deep the Taliban had penetrated local society when the police and law enforcement agencies started a half-hearted operation against the Punjabi Taliban in the last days of June. The operation came in response to simultaneous suicide attacks on two Ahmadi Muslim mosques in Lahore on May 28 that killed 95 people (The News [Islamabad], May 29; see also Terrorism Monitor, June 12). Up to this time, successive Punjab governments had looked at Talibanization as an Afghan-Pashtun problem of little relevance to Punjab.

Within a few days, law-enforcement agencies arrested scores of Islamist radicals and recovered 28,000 kilograms of explosives, anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades, suicide vests, small arms and ammunition (Asia Times Online, June 30). During the operation, law enforcement agencies specifically avoided targeting the Lashkar-e-Taiba (and the associated Jama’at ud-Da’wah) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad led by Maulana Masood Azhar. Had they targeted these groups as well, they would have faced bigger surprises. Instead of continuing the operation, the government mysteriously asked the law-enforcement agencies to slow it down. [1]

In the aftermath of the suicide attacks on the Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, a war of words started between Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik and the Punjab provincial government. Malik supported a military operation against the Punjabi Taliban, particularly those entrenched in the south of Punjab, while the Punjab government denied their existence, objected to the use of the expression “Punjabi Taliban” and accused the Federal Minister of trying to destabilize the province (Dawn [Karachi], June 3).

As the Punjab government came under growing pressure by the federal government and the media to take action against the terrorists, a slow moving operation was launched in Lahore in the second week of June. In the third week, more than 2,000 police cracked down on suspected terrorist hideouts in their search for some 1,785 terrorists in Lahore (Tribune [Karachi] June 18).

The reaction to the suicide attacks on the Ahmadi mosques in Lahore seemed to have surprised the Taliban as well. For more than a month, they did not carry out any major terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. However, they came back with a vengeance on July 1 when they struck Lahore’s Data Darbar, Punjab’s largest and most revered Sufi shrine.

Instead of accelerating the operation against the Taliban, the Punjab government slowed it down. In what was no more than a cosmetic gesture, the Punjab government announced it would ban 17 terrorist groups, most of which were already banned by the federal Ministry of the Interior last year (Geo News, August 5, 2009). These included Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ),  Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), Tehrik-e-Jafriya Pakistan (TJP), Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), Millat-e-Islamiya Pakistan (MIP), Khuddam ul-Islam (KuI), Islami Tehrik Pakistan (ITP), Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), Jamiat-ul-Ansar (JuA), Jamiat-ul-Furqan (JuFO), Khair-un-Naas International Trust, Islamic Students Movement (ISM), Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Jamaat-ud-Daawa (JuD). It also placed the Sunni Tehrik under observation. Nine of these groups belong to the Deobandi sect, three are Shi’a-based and three belong to the Ahl al-Hadith (Salafi) movement. The BLA is a Baloch nationalist organization, while the ISM is a student organization. Interestingly, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) did not appear on the list (The News [Islamabad], June 5).

Although a leisurely search-and-arrest police operation continues in Punjab, police are not likely to get the arrested terrorists convicted in the courts of law, as they are not receiving cooperation from the army and its intelligence agencies. In a secret report, the Punjab police accused the army of not sharing information on terrorists with them (The News, July 7). The report claimed that the army “neither assisted nor showed any interest in the trial of the accused” in some very high profile suicide attacks, including the February 25, 2008 attack on the head of the Pakistani Army Medical Corps, Lieutenant General Mushtaq Beg, and the February 4, 2008 attack on an army bus carrying students of the Army Medical Corps (Pakistan Times, February 26, 2008). The report, which describes the role of the army as “deplorable,” says that the army did not share any information on the accused or the forensic evidence, although the accused remained in the custody of the army for one year (The News, July 7). Nine men charged with the attacks, including alleged ringleader Dr. Abdul Razzak, were acquitted in May for lack of evidence (Dawn, May 13; BBC, May 13).

Explaining the sluggish pace of the operation, a police official in Punjab cited the above mentioned report and said that they had been given the list of terrorists by the army and secret agencies, but these provided little information. The army and the secret agencies have not shared any evidence on the terrorists either. “Police can arrest them but cannot get them convicted in the absence of the evidence,” said the police official. “If they did not share any information on such high profile attacks on the army itself, how can we expect them to share any information on the Punjabi Taliban?” [2]

It seems that the Islamist radicals are now aiming at a full blown Iraq-style terrorist campaign in the urban centers of Punjab. Pakistani investigators found evidence of the use of “shaped charges” – an explosive charge designed to focus the explosive’s energy – at the scene of the twin suicide attacks at the Sufi shrine in Lahore. Al-Qaeda has previously used these charges in improvised explosive devices. According to a senior Pakistani counter-terrorism official, "This is simply preparation for urban guerrilla warfare in Pakistan, like al-Qaeda previously launched in Iraq." (Asia Times Online, July 21) The emerging situation shows that the importance of a full military operation against the Punjabi Taliban cannot be overstated.


1. Author’s interview with a Punjab security official, July 2010

2. Ibid