Punjab CM, security czar and army chief discuss Punjab operation
ISLAMABAD:Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan held a meeting with army chief General Raheel Sharif late Thursday in an effort to break the apparent deadlock on how to pursue the anti-terror operation in the province.
The meeting held in Rawalpindi, which took over three hours, attempted to narrow down differences between the government and the army over the requisition of Rangers for the offensive against militants in Punjab, a senior security official with knowledge of the unprecedented development disclosed to The Express Tribune on Friday.
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The army has long been pushing the federal government to grant special policing powers to the Rangers in a bid to eradicate militancy in Punjab, something the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government is not willing to do so out of fear of political backlash.
However, the deadly terrorist attack in Lahore on March 27 that left over 70 people dead compelled the army chief to order an operation in Punjab against militants and their facilitators.
The federal and Punjab governments are believed to be upset over the army’s move without taking them into confidence, triggering speculations that the civil and military leadership are on a collision course. Against the backdrop of this situation, the Punjab chief minister and prime minister’s security czar met the army chief.
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The security official, familiar with the late-night meeting, said the meeting was part of efforts to evolve consensus for the ‘all important’ operation in Punjab. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he acknowledged differences between civil and military authorities but insisted that “things have not reached a point of no return.”
“Hopefully, the two sides will bridge the gap soon,” the official added.
The military establishment is also understood to have been unhappy over statements issued by certain government officials claiming there were no terrorist hideouts or no-go areas in Punjab. “This is not true. We all know there are sleeper cells and terrorist hideouts in Punjab,” the official insisted saying the government in Punjab appeared to be in a state of denial mainly because of ‘political reasons.’
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However, the official made it clear that the army had already begun ‘operation clean up’ in Punjab and will take this to its logical end.
Although there was no official word from either side on the secret meeting, sources said the federal government might agree to call up the Rangers but without giving them special policing powers.