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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Rangers were on Wednesday finally granted the authority to exercise policing powers in Punjab, a province termed by many a hotbed of militants and banned outfits.

The grant of the powers to five wings of the Rangers to operate in the province for 60 days was approved by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan while he was presiding over a high-level meeting here on Wednesday.

National Security Adviser retired Lt Gen Nasser Janjua, Interior Secretary Arif Khan, Punjab Chief Secretary Shaukat Hayat, Home Secretary retired Maj Suleman Azam, Punjab IGP Mushtaq Sukhera and other officials attended the meeting.

“Pursuant to the request by the provincial government of Punjab under sub-section 2 of Section 4 of Anti-Terrorism Act [ATA] 1997, the federal government in exercise of powers under clause 1 sub-section 3 of section 4 of Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 is pleased to authorise deployment of five wings of Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) to discharge such functions as specified in Section 5 of the Act against terrorist acts in areas specified by the government of Punjab.

Interior minister approves grant of powers for two months

“This notification shall come into force with immediate effect and shall remain so for a period of sixty (60) days,” said an official statement issued by the interior ministry.

Under the new, temporary powers under Section 5 of the ATA, the Rangers present or deployed in any area of Punjab would be able to use necessary force to prevent the commission of terrorist acts or scheduled offences, exercising all the powers of police officers, said the notification.

It shall be lawful for any such officer to fire on, or order the firing upon, any person or persons against whom he was authorised to use force; arrest, without warrant, any person who had committed an act of terrorism or a scheduled offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion existed that he had committed, or was about to commit, any such act or offence; and enter and search, without warrant any premises to make any arrest or to take possession of any property, firearm, weapon or article used, or likely to be used, the statement said.

The request for deployment of Rangers was made under Article 147 of the Constitution (which allows the provincial government to entrust its functions to the federation) and Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, following the recent spate of terrorist attacks across the country.

Talking to reporters, the minister said the provincial apex committee had recommended deployment of Rangers in Punjab. He said that during the period of their deployment in the province, the Rangers would assist the police and other law enforcement agencies in taking measures against terrorists.

“The government is determined to completely eradicate terrorism and is strictly adhering to the policy of providing all possible assistance to the provinces,” Mr Khan said. He made it clear that terrorists and their facilitators would be chased wherever they might be.

He observed that complete unity was required to win the war against terrorists.

When contacted, former adviser to the Sindh chief minister Senator Saeed Ghani said there was a dire need for an operation against “nurseries of terrorism” in Punjab for a long time but the PML-N government had so far been reluctant to allow one.

He said that most of the banned outfits and sectarian organisations were based in Punjab and a delay in launching of an operation in the largest province of the country provided an opportunity for the groups to flourish and strengthen.

He expressed the hope that a forceful and fruitful operation would be carried out to dismantle the terrorist sanctuaries in Punjab.

Asked how the operation in Punjab would be different from the one going on in Karachi, Mr Ghani said the reasons behind the operation in Sindh’s capital were entirely different.

He said the powers given to Rangers in Punjab had something to do with sectarian-based terrorism affecting the entire country, unlike Karachi where the problems were different.

“We [the PPP] neither have links with the terrorists nor do we sympathise with them,” he said and added that things were slightly different when it came to the PML-N.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2017