LAHORE - Eight private and public sector universities of Punjab are under watch for subversive debate on sensitive matters of national interest and possible links with extremist sleeper cells, sources in security agencies told The Nation yesterday.

As part of the National Action Plan (NAP), the security agencies are also monitoring the public and private educational institutions, besides the religious seminaries to neutralise subversion in the name of open/liberal debate and religion. This monitoring also aimed at identifying the possible extremist and terrorist sleeper cells in the educational institutions, said the sources.

The 20-point NAP carries two key items of countering hate speech and extremist material and ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations by an individual or group through any means.

Three private and two public sector universities in Lahore and one each public sector university in Multan, Bahawalpur and Sargodha fall in the list of varsities under watch.

Over one dozen colleges are also under watch in districts of Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Dera Ghazi Khan, Attock, Mianwali, Bhakkar, Jhang, Okara, Rahim Yar Khan and Faisalabad, they added.

The standard operating procedures (SOPs) were conveyed to the educational institutions soon after the NAP came into existence. The SOPs include check on hate material distribution, private and secret meetings at educational institutions’ campuses possibly held to create new sleeper cells of the extremists and terrorists, ban on controversial speakers to take part in debates concerning issues of national interest and sensitive matters, check on movement of outsiders or non-student elements at the campuses and private debates involving ridiculing the national heroes and glorification of extremist and terrorist elements or trends.

According to the initial findings of the security agencies, individuals and groups at the campuses and hostels of eight universities, besides the mentioned colleges, hold private meetings in which they ridicule the national heroes in the name of open debate or liberalism, glorify the extremists in the name of religion and spread negative propaganda against ongoing security operations in Fata, Balochistan, Karachi and Punjab. The bids are aimed at creating new sleeper cells, said the security sources.

The more cautious among them sometimes hold meetings at public or private places outside the educational institutions premises, they added.

In private and public sector educational institutions, Hizbut Tahrir has emerged as the key organisation involved in subversive activities while there are elements with Al-Qaeda and TTP outfits ideology leanings.

Two professors in an intelligence-based operation were picked up from Punjab University in December 2015 who, according to their interrogators, were connected with Hizbut Tahrir. According to the interrogating agency, both the professors after becoming cautious used to hold meetings at a public place in Garhi Shahu.

After the bust of some sleeper cells, the ring leaders have avoided direct contact with their new targets and engage some of the sympathizers to make sure that new targets are not part of any sting operation.

The counter-subversion operations have been going on in the suspected educational institutions for the last few months that have identified and neutralised key anti-state elements.