LAHORE - The deadliest terror assault on army public school in the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has brought forth a paradigm shift in the policing of the Punjab.

Before the Peshawar school brutality, Lahore police only used to smell mouths of drivers and wallets of motorcyclists in the name of security checking at the pickets. Now, the policemen are desperately searching for suspects and hunting for explosives during the general hold-up being observed almost on daily basis.

General hold-up is a term used by the police to enforce surprise pickets with gun-fitted vehicles and armed policemen to intercept the movement of every object on the road.

During a survey conducted in Lahore by The Nation, cops were seen carrying out snap-checking and physical search of the motorists. Within a few seconds, the motorcyclists were politely allowed to leave pickets. The car drivers were also asked to move on after snap-checking and there was no cross-questioning by the cops.

The general hold-ups of two to three hours duration are being observed on intelligence inputs in certain localities of Lahore on regular basis since the Peshawar school tragedy shook the entire nation.

“By doing this exercise (of surprise raids), police are put on aggressive position rather than defensive place. It could be disturbing and inconvenience for the citizens but it is need of the hour since the security forces are battling militancy,” says IGP Punjab Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera.

Rawalpindi police intercepted a suicide bomber during the general hold up the other day. “It was an achievement because the cops managed to save many lives as the bomber blew up his vest to flee the search,” he added.

As far as the operations against the militants are concerned, police must continue the exercise of surprise pickets to intercept the movement of suspected elements besides improving the system of intelligence gathering at police station level.

Security experts say the Punjab police cannot fully implement the national action plan unless the country’s largest law enforcing agency is properly empowered and equipped with latest weapons, tracking technology, and forensic training.

A former additional IGP said that the force should be purged from the politics and the provincial police chief must be given freehand in administrative matters. “Unfortunately, the Punjab IGP cannot appoint district police officers like his counterpart in KPK. Political interference needs to be stopped from top to bottom,” the officer said and preferred his name not be mentioned.

A police team raided a mosque in Lahore’s Mughalpura downtown and arrested the prayer leader for violating the ban on the loudspeaker the other day. Before the policemen reached the station, hundreds of residents took to the streets and blocked the roads, demanding the police to send him back before the Friday prayer. They continued protesting for hours, leaving the police with no other option except to release the (religious) leader after getting surety bonds signed.

Lahore DIG (Operations) Dr Haider Ashraf admits that the police are facing resistance in implementing the national action plan. However, he said, “This is not an uphill task, frankly speaking. It is a matter of a couple of weeks or months. There will be zero-tolerance against the violators.”

Police are committed to implement the national action plan across the province. “We just need support of the society, resources, and mechanism to execute the strategy. With the help of security agencies, the police can make a different within a short span of time,” argues Haider Ashraf.

As a part of the National Action Plan, the government has been working to stop printing and publication of hate material promoting sectarianism. The National Action Plan was drafted in the wake of the Peshawar school attack to chalk out a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism and extremism. Earlier, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif constituted special committees for the implementation of the Plan for counter-terrorism.

According to official sources, at least 795 cases were registered for misusing of loudspeaker and 497 people were arrested from all over the province during the last could of weeks. Similarly the police arrested 130 persons on the charges of making provocative speeches after registering 16 cases against them. Also, police booked 75 persons on the charges of wall-chalking. In Lahore, police registered 150 cases and arrested 140 suspects on the charges of making provocative speeches, wall chalking, and misuse of loudspeaker.

It is really very difficult to collect the data of all the residents, record the sermons of clerics, and to ensure police security around each building. The police, security, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies should work like a team to thwart the nefarious designs of the anti-state elements.

Social Scientist Muhammad Ramazan Rafique believes the implementation of national action plan is not a difficult job for the Punjab police, which killed more than 270 alleged gangsters in staged encounters in 2013.

Terror incidents have descended drastically in the Punjab province since the Pakistan Army launched operations against the militants and eliminated their strongholds in the northwest. The province needs better policing to save the urban population and to spoil the terrorist network operating in the big cities.