Expectations high Rangers will stem uptick in militant attacks in Punjab

By Javed Mahmood


A screen shot from an official video shows Pakistani Rangers at a military parade in 2016. Expectations are high that their deployment in Punjab will stem the uptick in militant attacks.

ISLAMABAD -- A spate of devastating terrorist attacks nationwide compelled the Punjab government to seek help from the para-military Rangers to stem the uptick in militancy.

The federal government approved a 60-day deployment, effective Wednesday (February 22), of Rangers in Punjab.

Pakistan in the past two weeks has suffered a number of fatal terrorist attacks. Among others, a suicide bombing on February 16 at a Sindh Province Sufi shrine left dozens dead and hundreds wounded, four suicide bombers struck Peshawar and Mohmand provinces on February 15, and another suicide bomber struck Lahore on February 13.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan approved the deployment request while chairing a high-level committee meeting in Islamabad, ministry spokesman Sarfaraz Hussain told Pakistan Forward.

The request came from the Punjab government February 19.

High expectations

Observers expect the Rangers to make a major contribution in reducing the militant threat.

Their deployment in Punjab "will certainly lead to improved law and order and will inflict a blow to the militancy", Peshawar-based security analyst Brig. (ret) Mehmood Shah told Pakistan Forward.

An array of Pakistani security forces are participating in the counter-insurgency Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (rejection of violence), which the army launched nationwide Wednesday (February 22), said Shah.

The air force, navy, Rangers and police are also included in the operation.

Those forces will rely on intelligence reports detailing militants' sanctuaries nationwide and their activities, he added.

Pakistan presently is battling numerous militant groups -- Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamatul Ahrar, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) -- but Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad will make short work of the recent outbreak of terrorism, Shah predicted.

The army decided to strengthen its intelligence mechanism to counter terrorism attempts conducted from Afghanistan and within Pakistan, he said.

The military intends to implement the counter-terrorism National Action Plan (NAP) in full measure nationwide, said Shah.

The federal government ordered NAP shortly after the terrorist massacre of more than 140 children and teachers at Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014, but some observers had questioned the thoroughness of the effort.

Targeting civilians

One reason for the high civilian death toll in recent attacks is the terrorists' inability to stand up to hardened security forces, analysts say.

"The terrorists began targeting the general public in Punjab in desperation," Asif Chaudhry, a Lahore-based security writer working for Dawn, told Pakistan Forward.

In 2016, the Punjab government rendered terrorists incapable of attacking security forces and installations -- their previous targets -- by arresting and killing many in their ranks, said Chaudhry.

In 2016, the incidence of major terrorist attacks in Punjab reached an eight-year low because of the numerous operations conducted by intelligence agencies and the provincial police's Counter Terrorism Department, he said.

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