LAHORE - Special anti-terror operations of military and rangers targeting banned outfits in Punjab will be conducted under a ‘verbal understanding’ with the provincial authorities, security officials close to the development told The Nation yesterday.

The operations under NAP (national action plan) will be conducted in the districts marked as ‘highly sensitive’ and ‘sensitive’, most of which fall in southern Punjab. During this purge, utmost care and secrecy will be maintained and media fanfare avoided, the officials said.

High-ranking terror targets and some mid-ranking targets will be neutralised through intelligence-led operations. The remaining operation will be intelligence-based in which the secret services will provide information to the paramilitary Rangers for conducting raids, they added.

The groups to face the blow are already designated as terrorist. They include Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, al-Qaeda, Khuddam-ul-Islam (Ex-Jaish), Hizbut Tahrir and TTP as well as its splinters.

The anti-terror action will focus on highly sensitive districts of Rajanpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rahim Yar Khan, Muzaffargarh, Bahawalpur and Multan. The military and Rangers – with the assistance of intelligence agencies, will then carry out similar sweeps in Layyah, Khanewal and Lodhran which fall in sensitive category.

The main thrust of the operations will be the areas of Punjab bordering with Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces where certain tracts have become ‘no-go areas’. Southern Punjab is connected with Balochistan at Rajanpur-Rojhan, while Rahim Yar Khan connects it with Sindh.

In northern Punjab, operations will be conducted highly sensitive districts of Mianwali and Attock which connect the province with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Two sensitive districts of northern Punjab - Jhang and Sargodha - will also face security sweep.

Faisalabad is the only district of in central Punjab where the clean-up operations will be carried out.

The special operations will also target selected places in other districts of the province where there is actionable intelligence about the presence of targets, said the security officials.

Punjab Home Department sources confirming the development told the paper they have no instructions to issue any notification regarding military and rangers special operations in the province. The action will be conducted under a verbal understanding between military and civilian authorities.

Some members of provincial cabinet seeking anonymity said the military authorities can tender a request at any time to provide rangers policing powers on the lines of Karachi to operate freely, but so far there was no such thing on the table of provincial chief executive.

However, there is a request pending with the provincial head for last two months to engage rangers to deal with the resurgence of the banned outfits activities.

“The understanding among the provincial government members about the modus oprendi of the military operations is that they (military and rangers) will act according to their own plans. They will engage or inform the civilian agencies about their operations where they deem it necessary,” said the provincial cabinet members.

The military agencies have their own dossiers regarding the terror targets but they are also working on the list of more than 100 most-wanted terrorists in Punjab prepared by the civilian agencies last year. The civilian agencies will mark the high-value and mid-ranking yet deadly terror targets for the military and rangers operations and rest of the cases will be dealt by the civilian agencies, said the security officials.

According to the intelligence agencies of the military, the sleeper units of banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, TTP and its splinters and al-Qaeda are involved directly or indirectly in terror activities in Punjab. The banned Jaish-e-Muhammad with its headquarters in Bahawalpur is considered as the second deadliest outfit after Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in southern Punjab.

However, the military agencies consider Hizbut Tahrir as the most dangerous outfit as it is involved in ideological subversion in almost all private and public sector organisations and educational institutes for overthrowing the democratic system by bloodshed.

The civilian agencies’ most-wanted list of Punjab prepared last year include 36 terrorists belonging to TTP and its splinters, 28 to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, 30 Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan, 27 Tehrik-e-Jaffaria Pakistan, 14 Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, 8 al-Qaeda and 14 others who keep on switching the terror outfits.

Out of total 20 high-ranking terrorists of some had been executed mainly belonged to southern parts of the province which gave credence to military and rangers focus on South Punjab.

A spokesman for Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group of the banned TTP, claimed the responsibility of suicide bombing at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park. He said the act was carried out to avenge the killing of Malik Ishaq, the emir of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is the main operative of TTP umbrella and Al-Qaeda partner to launch deadly terror attacks in Punjab.

The army and rangers will conduct a widespread operation across Punjab to target sleeper units of the banned outfits, said ISPR DG Lt-Gen Asim Bajwa while addressing a joint press conference with Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed yesterday.

A number of suspected terrorists and facilitators have been arrested during the five raids conducted in Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan after the Lahore suicide attack, he added.