LAHORE - In a bid to identify the possible sleeper cells of militants under the garb of students in religious seminaries and public educational institutions, an aggressive intelligence gathering exercise has been launched across the country, it is reliably learnt.

Sources privy to the development confided to The Nation on Friday that the security forces have launched a countrywide information gathering operation to identify and separate the possible sleeper cells of the outlawed TTP, Al-Qaeda or any other version of the self-proclaimed religious militants among the students of madaris and public educational institutions. They informed that madaris or public educational institutions found with possible sleeper cells would be tagged as ‘Grey’, while the students as ‘Active’.

They added that madaris would be divided into two sections of which one would be the degree awarding religious seminaries and the other would be the Quran recitation seminaries, which included both male and female institutions.

They informed that public educational institutions would be divided into two categories of which one would be the colleges, while the other would be the universities including male, female and co-education institutions.

In addition, scanning of the teachers and instructors at madaris and public educational institutions would also be part of the exercise, while they would also be put in the category of ‘Active’ if any individual emerges to be a sleeper of the militants.

They also informed that security forces had blown some sleeper cells in some religious seminaries of Rawalpindi, Multan and DG Khan in the past. While in a recent incident, some students of a public university were also picked up by the security forces for their suspected links with the militants.

Interior department officials, confirming the development to this correspondent, said that more actions would be launched in the light of upcoming action plan of the parliamentary committee to deal with the menace of terrorism.

When contacted over the madaris scanning issue,

JUI-S secretary general Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi said, “We can’t be held responsible for the actions of any individual; however he said that the madaris administration takes all possible measures to stop the entry of a suspected extremist or sympathiser before admitting him to the religious seminary.”

He added, “Religious seminaries are not the only institutions but such elements can be found in all segments of the society. But I can assure one thing that madaris would never involve themselves with the extremist elements by design or plan.”

Adul Rauf said, “Madaris administration can watch their students as long as they are in the premises of the seminary and they can’t guarantee their activities outside the madaris.”

The JUI-S senior leader said, “We have cooperated with the security forces in the past and would do so in the future as we have nothing to hide. We’ll certainly welcome actions which help cleansing the madaris from the unwanted elements.”

Brigadier (Retd) Aslam Ghumman, a security expert and former ISI Punjab commander, shared his experiences on this count and said, “The first ever survey of the madaris was carried out in 2001, which was resisted by the religious forces but the intelligence agency had managed to gathered a sizeable data of the seminaries that became source of good information for other agencies.”

He proposed that the religious seminaries should be made part of the mainstream educational system and run under a single national syllabus. Time to time scanning of the seminaries should also be carried by the ministry concerned, he added.

About dealing with the terrorism, he said, “We should not take actions just to deal with the super facial disease but we should deal with this menace considering it a phenomena. It’s a long-drawn war which needs long-term and short-term measures.”