LAHORE, Sept 22: NWFP Governor Owais Ghani warned Punjab on Monday that militancy was gaining strength in its backyard.

“Militants in the tribal areas of the NWFP have established firm networking (with jihadi groups) in southern Punjab and most fresh recruits for suicide attacks are coming from there. Militant leaders and commanders are also coming from Punjab. The militants’ field commander in Swat too is from Punjab,” Mr Ghani told a briefing arranged for senior journalists on insurgency in tribal areas.

The words of caution from the governor came soon after a number of people were detained in Punjab apparently in connection with the Marriott bombing.

Mr Ghani also warned against treating the insurgency in the tribal areas as a problem of the NWFP. “It will be ill-advised to think that the militancy will remain confined to the NWFP. Militants’ activities have already shifted to the settled areas and Punjab and they have established strong links with south Punjab. It’s a national issue, a question of survival for (entire) Pakistan.”Later talking to Dawn, the governor said he had discussed the matter with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. He expressed the hope that the Punjab government would effectively handle the situation.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani is also said to be aware of the issue of recruitments of suicide bombers from his constituency. “He (prime minister) knows about it,” Mr Ghani said.

He said: “The militants are on the run. But the (military) operation will have to continue for another four to five months before the militancy could be contained.”

He said the issue of militancy could not be resolved without restoration of ‘political peace’ and tranquillity in Afghanistan. “However, we are trying to contain it and lower its intensity.”

In reply to a question, he said there was a political consensus in the NWFP on the counter-insurgency operations. “There is complete harmony between the Governor’s House and the ANP-PPP coalition government. The JUI-Fazl is also supporting the operation,” he said.