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Government planning operation in settled areas

By Kamran Yousaf

ISLAMABAD: The federal government is planning a targeted operation against banned outfits in the country’s settled areas — including Punjab — as part of its wider strategy to combat extremism and militancy, The Express Tribune has learnt.

The operation also aims at preempting any attempt by members of these groups in major cities and towns once a ground offensive begins against their hideouts in the tribal areas, a high-ranking government official said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said that intelligence reports suggest members of banned outfits have decided to either flee to Afghanistan or hide in Pakistan’s settled areas ahead of the impending military operation.

“They are not likely to put up a fight, and will instead flee,” the official said. “In view of these intelligence reports, concerned authorities have been directed to crack down on sympathisers who may provide them refuge inside cities.”

Another official pointed out that the planned operation in North Waziristan Agency was part of a comprehensive strategy the government was preparing in order to tackle these groups.

“Other aspects of this strategy include denying these groups any space in the settled areas and choking their financial support,” he explained. He said that the law enforcement agencies would carry out ‘preemptive’ operations in Karachi and some cities in Punjab.

During the 2010 Swat operation, many fighters were believed to have fled to Karachi and other areas to escape the offensive. “We will try not to let them escape the operation this time,” the official said.

Last week, Punjab’s Law Minister Rana Sanaullah also indicated that the provincial administration would initiate an operation against banned outfits. He told reporters that the government had decided to take action against organisations which were stoking sectarianism and extremism.

The recent move by the government to promulgate the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance is meant to provide a legal cover to the security agencies for the targeted operation. The ordinance allows security and law enforcement agencies to detain suspects for 90 days without any charge or trial.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2014.

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