WEB DESK:Army has launched a large-scale crackdown on militants and their facilitators across Punjab after a deadly attack at Gulshan Iqbal Park of Lahore on Sunday evening.
On the directive of Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, military started a massive crackdown in different cities of Punjab late Sunday night to nab the terrorists involved in Lahore tragedy.
Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif chaired a meeting here on Monday to review progress in the operation launched in Punjab. The meeting was informed that intelligence agencies along with Army and Rangers carried out five operations in Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan since Sunday night. According to ISPR, the operation is continuing with full force. The meeting was further informed that a number of terrorists and their facilitators were also arrested during these operations and huge caches of arms and ammunition were recovered from them.
HAMID WALEED adds from Lahore: Both the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Rangers personnel took part in the crackdown and arrested over 200 suspects from Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Kamoki, Sialkot, Narowal, Jhelum, Bahawalpur and other cities of the province. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations, the intelligence agencies arrested suspects in Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan and recovered weapons and explosive material in five different operations.
The intelligence officials arrested over 80 suspects from Faisalabad, 78 from Gujranwala, 20 from Sialkot and seven from Kamoki. In Lahore, an operation was launched in different parts of the city including Model Town, Kotwali and Baghbanpura. The army officials have also arrested suspects from Ahmed Pur Sharqia in Bahawalpur. They said a majority of those arrested belongs to banned organisations.
AFP, Reuters add: The army announced it had carried out raids in Lahore as well as in Faisalabad and Multan, two other major cities in Punjab province. More were planned. “Number of suspect terrorists and facilitators arrested and huge cache of arms and ammunition recovered,” army spokesman Asim Bajwa tweeted. Rescue spokeswoman Deeba Shahbaz said the death toll had risen to 72 Monday, with 29 children among the dead. A spokesman for the Lahore city administration put the number of Christians killed at “10-15” as authorities scrambled to identify the dead. Bits of human flesh and torn cloth could be seen Monday around the bloodstained swings and merry-go-round.
Authorities said the park had seen a surge of visitors thanks to Easter and the warm spring weather. Some 8,000 were still there when the bomb was detonated in the early evening, park officials said. “The militants went for a softer target because there was tight security for churches in Lahore,” said Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a Christian organisation.
There were frenzied scenes at hospitals in the immediate aftermath, with staff treating casualties on floors and in corridors as officials tweeted calls for blood donations.
Lahore’s top administration official Muhammad Usman said around 100 of the wounded were either treated at the scene or quickly discharged. He said a further 180 had been admitted to hospital. Schools and other government institutions were open Monday but three days of mourning were announced in Punjab. Security and government officials told Reuters that the decision had been made to launch a full-scale paramilitary Rangers operation, giving them powers to conduct raids and interrogate suspects in the same way as they have been in Karachi for more than two years.
The move, which has not yet been formally announced, represents the civilian government once again granting special powers to the military in order to fight Islamist militants. “The technicalities are yet to be worked out. There are some legal issues also with bringing in Rangers, but the military and government are on the same page,” said one senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to share details of the plan.
One other military official and two government officials confirmed the decision on condition of anonymity. While the army, police, government and Western interests have been the prime targets of the Pakistani Taliban and their allies, Christians and other religious minorities have also been attacked. Security forces have killed and arrested hundreds of suspected militants under an earlier crackdown launched after the 2014 Peshawar school massacre. Militant violence eased, but groups retain the ability to launch devastating attacks.