LAHORE – The recent police crackdown against the two main factions of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), being seen as a major blow to the terrorist outfit, has virtually pushed the Punjab police force on the front line in the war on terror, once again.

The country’s largest law enforcing agency comprising a strong force of 180,000 policemen has been battling against the well-organized militant groups with limited sources and less technology.

Taliban targeted the Punjab police for the very first time in 2008 when a suicide bomber had detonated his explosive vest among a police gathering near GPO Crossing, leaving dozens of policemen dead and wounded. Later, the militants carried out several gun and bomb attacks targeting policemen at Manawan training school, Elite Police Training center, and Rescue-15 Headquarters in Lahore.

In 2010, the opposition had come hard on the Chief Minister following Mian Shahbaz Sharif urged the Taliban elements not to launch terror attacks in the Punjab stating, “If the Taliban are also fighting for the same cause (i.e. opposing Musharraf’s policies and foreign interference in Pakistani politics), then they should not carry out acts of terror in Punjab.” Virtually, the suicide bombings and terror strikes dropped significantly in the province. However, militants again began attacking policemen and army personnel in province this year. In November 2011, the Punjab police arrested 17 suspected TTP commanders. Qari Azmat, the mastermind of many attacks in Lahore, had been apprehended in July.

In the recent past, the police killed and arrested several key operatives of Qari Yasin group and Hakimullah Mehsud faction for planning and executing terror attacks on the police and security personnel in Lahore, Multan, Attock and Gujrat district.

Last week, the police claimed to have arrested at least seven most wanted militants from Multan and Gujrat districts. Analysts believe that the police have launched a massive crackdown on militants since the TTP resumed the terror attacks in the most populated province, targeting police and military men.

On Wednesday, the Multan police claimed that they had smashed the network of Qari Yasin group by arresting its five members including Habib-ur-Rehman, Imtiaz Ahmed, Hafiz Muhammad Ramazan, Muhammad Imran, and Ameer Moavia. The arrested militants, according to the police, had masterminded and executed the terror attacks on policemen in Lahore. The same group had also targeted the military personnel in Gujrat district to avenge the killings of their commanders. Country’s leading intelligence agencies provided key input to the law-enforcing agency in tracking down the militants.

The police on Friday said that they thwarted a major terror attempt in the province by arresting two leading Taliban operatives during an operation in the Gujrat district.

The police recovered five live suicide jackets, five IEDs and some 75-kg explosive material from the terrorists. The captured militants belonged to Hakimullah Mehsud group of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Police said that the group was planning coordinated suicidal attacks to target religious processions and Majalis during this holy month in the Punjab province.

On the other hand, the Punjab police have also launched a de-radicalisation programme aimed at converting hard-line clerics, to prevent them from falling into the hands of extremists. Police official believe that apart from the district police, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), Special Branch and the Special Investigations Cells of the Punjab police have been activated and assigned the task in this regard. The police are aggressively working to neutralise the hardliners belonging to the Ahl-i-Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Tehrik-e-Jafriya, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan, Islami Tehrik Pakistan, Jamiat-ul-Ansar and Jamiat-ul-Furqan. The police are also directed to hunt down those who had been financing the banned outfits by examining their other funding sources.

At a time when the police are making important arrests and breakthrough, Federal Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, has warned the Punjab government that the Taliban are moving into the Punjab to launch high-profile attacks.

Intelligence reports also suggested “serious threats” during this crucial Muharram-ul-Haram as the militants are reportedly planning attacks to target mourners in the holy month to create instability in the province.

The Punjab government must take the threat-alerts more seriously since the police have tightened its screw around the militants with major arrests and killings of the terrorists in alleged encounters. The law enforcing agency also must prepare counter-terror strategy in case the Taliban retaliates as they had launched revenge attacks in the past.