LAHORE - An intensive operation to block the flight of foreign fighters wishing to join the insurgency in Syria has been launched in the tribal areas, The Nation has learnt.

The foreign fighters to be rounded during the security services operation will be deported to the countries of their origin under the Foreign Act, but those found having links with al-Qaeda are most likely to be kept in detention.

The development comes after the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) expressed their inability to guarantee the safety of the foreign fighters and asked them to manage whatever they could do on their own.

Highly-placed contacts close to the security services told this correspondent on Sunday that fresh efforts were launched to ascertain the possible number of the foreign fighters and their locations as they are on the move after the TTP warning.

They said that security services were making efforts to reach those foreign fighters through the local tribesmen who are willing to let Pakistani authorities decide their fate. They said that the prime target of this chase was to make all possible bids to stop the flight of foreign fighters who want to join the war in Syria.

Most of those foreigners who are willing to surrender would be deported to their home countries. About the al-Qaeda-connected foreign militants, the sources said they are most likely to be detained for longer periods.

When asked about the reported number of the foreign fighters in certain news media, they said that the figures were misleading, as the foreign elements were intentionally exaggerating about their numerical strength in an effort to hoodwink the authorities in order to manage the militants’ flight to Syria. “We believe that the people who claimed of having met the foreign fighters didn’t actually met with the ‘hardcore or the active class’ of the foreign fighters,” the sources said.

There are two kinds of foreign fighters – one belongs to the old guard which took part in the freedom struggle against the former Soviet Union and the other comes from the Taliban cadres. Many of those from the old guard have laid down their arms since long, but most of the new breed of foreign militants remains very much active.

The sources said that memos from tribal areas suggest that the outlawed TTP was organising meetings of the local newsmen with old guard of the foreign fighters who were making false claims about their numbers either to prolong their stay or ensure their safe flight to Syria. But, in fact this group of foreign fighters actually neither knows the exact number of their comrades nor has a fair estimation.

Brigadier (r) Mehmood Shah, the former Fata secretary, sharing his experiences with The Nation over the issue of foreign fighters, said, “We had deported some foreign fighters arrested during security forces actions to the countries of their origin. I think that sending the rest of them back to their countries by the incumbent government will be the most doable option.”

He revealed, “The government which he served also made an offer to the foreign fighters for giving them the status of refugees if they lay down arms but they refused to do so and resultantly many of them were taken out, while those arrested in the special operations were deported to their home countries.”

Endorsing the notion of two categories of foreign fighters, Mehmood said, “Yes, there are two kinds of foreign fighters, one belongs to the old group which fought Soviet Union, while the other, relatively newer one, emerged after the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan.”

Commenting over the security services plan to block the moving of foreign fighters to Syria, he said, “Though it is an uphill task, it would be a great job on part of the security services to stop the elements which already brought us bad name in the past and were planning to do the same in the future.”