RAWALPINDI/LAHORE: Security forces, with assistance from Pakistan Army, are conducting an operation against terrorists and hardcore criminals in areas of southern Punjab.
"Coordinated operations are underway against terrorists, hardened criminals and ferraris by law enforcement agencies including Rangers, Punjab police, CTD , assisted by Pakistan army in southern Punjab", an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement said on Wednesday.
The statement added that the terrorists have fled from different parts of the country as a result of operation Zarb-i-Azb, and have taken refuge in the remote areas of Rohjan and district Rahim Yar Khan.
The operation is being looked after by Corp Commander Lahore, Lt Gen Sadiq Ali, with army troops, Punjab Police, Counter-Terrorism Department and Rangers participating.
'Operation against hardcore criminals'
However, Rahim Yar Khan Superintendant of Police (SP) Irfan Ali Samo told Dawn that the operation was started three days ago in the area of Rojhan and Rahim Yar Khan, specifically the islands of River Indus, against hardcore criminals.
“Chotu gang was involved in killing more than 30 policemen during different operations and was also involved in extortion and robberies,” said Samo.
The SP claimed that DG Khan police was commanding the operation.
A Sub-Inspector (SI), Abid Sharif Gabol, posted at DG Khan and participating in the operation, said the criminals were residing on the islands in the river, which are situated from Ghazi Ghat to Sukkur.
“The criminals were using the islands as a base and had built bunkers, they would kidnap traders and landlords and took them there,” said the SI.
Gabol added that some members of the proscribed Baloch Liberation Army and proclaimed offenders were also being facilitated by Chotu gang.
“The ammunition being used by the gang to attack law enforcement personnel was of Indian origin,” elaborated Gabol.
No information has been provided yet regarding the number of arrests or casualties.
Southern Punjab connection
The decision to conduct a security operation was taken after the horrific Gulshan-i-Iqbal park suicide attack in Lahore, which killed at least 72 people including women and children.
Military sources had stated the army and Rangers will conduct a widespread operation across Punjab to target militants, their facilitators and their hideouts, following the carnage in Lahore.
Sources had said the decision was taken during a high-level military huddle, chaired by Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif at the General Headquarters.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while chairing a high-level security meeting in Lahore, had also called for more proactive coordination amongst law enforcement and intelligence agencies against terrorism.
Analysts believe that south Punjab, with thousands of seminaries and a history of having provided foot soldiers to militant and sectarian outfits for decades, now offers a promising opportunity for the militant Islamic State (IS) to strengthen its network in the region.
“The main battle has to be fought in the tribal backyard, but the job will remain half-done unless the militant sanctuaries and support networks in the cities both in southern and northern Punjab are completely dismantled,” warned a Lahore-based security analyst.