Editorial: Rangers in Punjab

At its Sunday’s meeting, held in the wake of the terrorist attack in Lahore, the Punjab Apex Committee took several important decisions.

The one that stands out is that although the provincial government has finally come around to seek the Rangers’ help to eliminate terrorists and their facilitators it is not willing to give Rangers policing powers. So far, officials in the province have been bristling at any suggestion of Karachi-like Rangers operations in Punjab, insisting its police and the Counter-Terrorism Department were up to the task.

This they did in spite of the fact that the police lack the capability to take on far better trained and armed terrorists, while no effort has been made to build the police’s capacity commensurate with the threat they are to deal with. It makes good sense therefore to get help from the paramilitary force. Nonetheless, even as the Punjab government has agreed to call in Rangers, it is still reluctant to give them a free hand. A committee has been set up to determine the terms under which they are to operate. Going by the example of Karachi operation, the paramilitary force will have to have policing powers in order to achieve desired results.

The apex committee also decided that action will be taken against workers of the banned groups, and that seminaries functioning in the tribal belt would be closely monitored. Further that, financial resources of extremist groups will be choked by banning the collection of funds by proscribed organisations. It may be recalled that all these issues were part of the National Action Plan (NAP) adopted more than two years ago. That they remain unaddressed is a sad comment on the willingness of all concerned to implement the political consensus-based strategy to eliminate terrorism.

Then there is the Interior Minister’s recent statement that proscribed sectarian outfits – also responsible for carrying out terrorist attacks and maintaining links with TTP terrorists – should not be equated with ‘pure’ terrorists. The lax attitude towards all these vital aspects of the challenge at hand raises concern about the seriousness of the present resolve to conduct ‘indiscriminate’ operations against terrorists and their facilitators.

It is worth noting that the seminaries mentioned for close monitoring are those located in the tribal belt. Which merits the question why the ones in southern Punjab, known to receive liberal funding from abroad and having extremist links, are not included?

During the last few days, the army chief has repeatedly talked of cutting terrorist funding which, again, is a reminder that so far those concerned have shirked that responsibility despite the fact the NAP called for choking terrorist funding quite a while ago. Things being what they are, one can only hope decisions of the Punjab Apex Committee and the Prime Minister’s repeated promises after the recent string of terrorist strikes to do all that it takes to defeat terrorists won’t come to naught with the passage of time – as has been the case following every major atrocity.

An immediate test would be the role the Punjab government assigns the Rangers to carry out anti-terrorism operation in the province.