Dawn – Situationer: when fear takes over

Lahore-Panjab-Pakistan, 24 February 2017. Around noon on Thursday a mother received a call from her daughter’s school in Gulberg. The caller informed her that the school was letting parents collect their daughters early in view of the blast in DHA an hour ago.

As she rushed to the school, a friend texted her a message that one news channel was airing ‘unconfirmed’ reports of an explosion at an American fast food chain’s Gulberg outlet, which is perilously close to the school.

“It was like I had already died. The message numbed my mind and body, totally. Don’t know how I pulled up the car and started calling the school. But the call wouldn’t connect,” she later told the mother of one of her daughter’s classmates, her eyes swollen and her voice choking because of crying.

After failing to reach the school administration by telephone she pulled herself together and drove “madly” to get to the school only to run into a security picket.

The Rangers and the police had thrown a cordon around the Gulberg Main Boulevard outlet of the international chain. A policeman told her to take an alternative route.

“When I asked him about what was going on there and if the Rangers were searching only the food outlet or all the buildings, including the school, in that block, he refused to confirm or refute. He just kept asking me to move on and away,” the mother of two boys and a girl told Dawn.

She wasn’t the only mother to have suffered the trauma. Other parents too had similar experiences. Many made a dash to the school as soon as they heard of the Defence blast. Others were asked by a text message or call from the school administration or from their daughters.

Outside the school you could see many parents crying. Inside the school the children waited to be picked up as soon as possible.

“It was during the short break that the cell phones of our teachers started ringing incessantly. Everyone suddenly started talking about the Defence explosion and then ‘news’ of another blast in Gulberg,” an A-Level student said.
“We were asked by our school administrator to call home so that our parents could pick us up early. Every child was frightened, not knowing what was actually happening outside the school walls.”

‘Close to our homes’

Lahore is no stranger to terrorist attacks. Over the last decade the people of the city have seen hundreds of deaths in suicide bombings and sectarian attacks at public places and shrines like the rest of the country.

Parents remember refusing to send their children to school for days or taking them to public places. Some had even made their peace with their fear of death.

But the recent string of militant attacks in the country that began with a suicide attack on a protest at Charing Cross on the Mall in front of the Punjab Assembly earlier this month seems to have triggered a fresh wave of fear across the country. Thursday’s explosion has intensified these fears.

“The recent bombings have shaken everyone. This new wave looks dangerous. This is different from before. They (militants) seem to be closer… they’re hitting very close to (our) homes this time,” said an executive of a company who didn’t want to be named.

Unlike the past, traders too appear quite mindful of the threat and voluntarily shut down the markets. Restaurants that otherwise are usually filled with guests gave a deserted look.

“No one feels safe now. Everyone is advising everyone to avoid shopping malls, markets and restaurants. People are scared,” a trader told Dawn.

Many blame the electronic media and the government for the current environment of fear.

“If some media outlets are responsible for airing rumours as confirmed news, the (Punjab) government hasn’t done itself any good either by persistently trying to pass off the bomb explosion in Defence as an accident,” argued a LUMS professor. “Indeed, these government denials didn’t help”.

The ministers and officials have only added to the confusion, and public fears, just because it doesn’t want to look inefficient and weak. Such an outlook could boost demands for giving the Rangers more powers.”

The LUMS professor agreed that the management of the General Hospital had taken a good decision in disallowing the media from entering the premises for ‘live’ coverage.

“The media persons don’t realise how dangerous this can be for everyone, besides obstructing the effort to help the wounded.

The loss of 100 lives in a Quetta hospital in August last year and in Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital should be enough to make media refrain from following the wounded to hospitals and creating chaos for militants to do their work.”

Yet TV did spread rumours and panic with the news of Gulberg blast. “It is a tough call: do we inform our viewers and readers or do we play it down along with the likes of Rana Sanaullah,” said a journalist.


The Tribune – Sutlej Yamuna Link Stir : How the day unfolded, Police’s forceful display foils breach bid

Jupinderjit Singh, Tribune News Service

Shambu-Patiala district-Panjab, 23 Februray 2017. The manual and technical expertise of the Punjab Police was on full display at the Punjab-Haryana border today to prevent INLD activists from reaching the SYL canal.

In contrast, the Haryana Police had far less men. They also fared poorly on the modern equipment front.

The Punjab Police deployment was supervised by a DGP-rank officer, while a DSP-level officer was the in-charge on the Haryana side. INLD activists easily breached the Haryana security rings, but could not cross the Punjab Police barricades.

The specially trained anti-riot police, equipped with body suits that guard against fire, acid and stone missiles; head gear; pellet bullets; and chilli spray, was prepared for any eventuality.

Multi-barrel launchers mounted on Vajra vehicles, drones and a helicopter were used to ensure peace and foil any attempt to breach the barricades.

The helicopter and drones caught the fancy of the media and residents alike as these were used for the first time.

The Punjab Police had drawn flak in the past for not having proper weaponry, modern equipment and permission to use the chopper in several pressing circumstances. Most of the modern equipment was bought after the police faced challenges such as the terror attack at Dinanagar and Pathankot Air Force station.

Learning from the past, the government provided its helicopter to the police for the third day consecutive today. Senior officials used it to survey the border.

On several occasions, the drones were flown over the Ghaggar bridge, from where INLD activists marched towards Punjab. Besides drones, CCTV cameras installed at key points recorded the INLD’s march and police arrangements.

The anti-riot contingent was the first line of defence. It was earlier deployed in Bargari village, where clashes took place over sacrilege incidents. These men have been undergone a minimum 45-day training to handle a riotous mob. They are the “wall” of the police defence.

More than 5,000 men and women drawn from six police districts, besides 10 battalions of the paramilitary force and personnel of reserve battalions were deployed along the border, specially at the Shambu bridge and entry points to Sarala and Kapoori villages.

Under the command of DGP (Law and Order) HS Dhillon, eight commandants of reserve battalions, five SSPs and two IGs remained on their toes the entire day.

Punjab DGP Suresh Arora supervised the entire operation from the headquarters.


The Hindu – Pakistan on edge as terror hits continue

Mubashir Zaidi

Karachi, 23 February 2017. At least eight people were killed in a blast at a crowded market in Lahore, 10th attack in two weeks

At least eight people were killed and 30 injured in an explosion in the highly guarded Defence Housing Authority area in Lahore, the 10th attack in less than two weeks pointing to a resurgence in Islamist violence in Pakistan.

The blast comes a day after Pakistan announced a new nation-wide anti-terror offensive. Muhammad Iqbal, Senior Superintendent of Police, Counter-Terrorism Department, Punjab, said immediately after the attack that the blast was caused by explosives.

“How the explosives reached the area and how it got exploded is under investigations,” he said. The blast happened in a popular commercial area known for its cafés and restaurants.

The blast ripped through a yet-to-be-opened restaurant where people gathered to finalise its opening. Restaurant owner Moazzam Paracha was among the dead.

Four cars destroyed

The blast happened next to popular Indian cuisine restaurant Bombay Chaupati. Provincial minister Rana Sanaullah said the blast was “huge”. Rescue in-charge Farooq Ahmed told reporters the injured have been shifted to nearby hospitals. Four cars parked nearby were completely destroyed. No group has yet claimed responsibility.

Just over an hour later rumours of a second blast in another affluent area nearby sent ambulances racing to the scene, though authorities later said the reports were false. Media regulator PEMRA issued notices to 31 news channels as police claimed that the news was wrong.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently in Turkey, said in a statement that he is grieved over the loss of life.

Over the past two weeks, terrorists have struck cities in all the provinces setting alarm bells ringing for the Sharif government and the powerful military.

More than 120 people have died in these attacks. Authorities are claiming to have killed more than 150 suspected terrorists in a country-wide crackdown on militancy.

Optimism dented

The incidents, most of which were claimed by the Islamic State group or the Pakistani Taliban, have dented optimism after the country appeared to be making strong gains in its decade-and-a-half long war on militancy.

“After some relief over the last year or two, it’s turmoil again, it’s very troublesome,” Asha’ar Rehman, the Lahore editor of leading daily Dawn told AFP.


Dawn – Hindu pilgrims arrive for Shivratri celebrations

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

Lahore, 23 February 2017. As many as 217 Hindu pilgrims arrived here on Wednesday through Wagah border on a seven-day tour to participate in Shivratri (night of Shiva) celebrations at the Katasraj temple in Pothohar area of Punjab.

The pilgrims, led by Shiv Partap Bajaj, were received by Evacuee Trust property Board Chairman Saddiqul Farooq.

Welcoming the delegation, the chairman said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had ordered foolproof security and arrangements for the visiting guests.

“The prime minister has extended the hand of friendship to India and repeatedly urged cooperation between both neighbours in order to solve all outstanding issues,” the chairman said.

Cooperation and friendship was the only way forward for both countries so that they could prosper and help the entire region develop, he said.

Reciprocating the comments, Indian team leader Shiv Partap, who was born in Multan and is on his 10th visit to Pakistan, said both countries should resolve their issues and let people enjoy the fruits of peace.

“It has always been a pleasure to return to one’s roots. My family belonged to Pind Dadan Khan, I was born in Multan and the first memory I have is of Lahore.

All those who left this side of the border have always been eager to return to see their ancestral villages and homes and avail first opportunity to do so. In order to do so, we need peaceful borders and increased people-to-people contact.”

Ms Ashu, who is on third visit to Pakistan, told Dawn that judging by the arrangements and the “reception we get here, it looks that if we are eager to come here, Pakistan is more eager to welcome us.

The warm welcome and perfect arrangements are a big encouragement for all of us and we thank Pakistan for all this and also for all reported development work at the mandir.”

The pilgrims would spend a day in Lahore and then move to Katasraj, where main celebrations will be held on Friday. The pilgrims would return to India on 28 February.


The Tribune – No terror threat: Dal Khalsa

Chandigarh, 22 February 2017. The Dal Khalsa has disagreed with PPCC chief Captain Amarinder Singh predicting “the revival of terrorism” over the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal and blamed him for exaggerating the situation.

Dal Khalsa head Harpal Singh Cheema said it was not the SYL issue that had the potential to trigger the revival of armed rebellion, but continued injustice being meted out to Punjab by all organs of the state.

He said INLD leader Abhay Chautala was creating chaos only to revive his political moorings. He alleged that Badals had left the state in this hour of crisis to facilitate the Chautalas to play misadventure.


The Asian Age – Punjab: Five shoot dead financier, brag about murder in videos posted on Facebook

According to reports, they celebrated his death by dancing near the dead body

Chandigarh, 18 February 2017. The Punjab Police on Saturday spread the dragnet to nab five accused, who shot dead a financier in Sangrur district, celebrated his death by dancing near the dead body.

According to a report in the Hindustan Times, the accused later posted videos on Facebook, bragging about the murder.

“At about 10am, five youths with pistols in hand reached the market on two motorcycles and stopped near Hardev. They put pistols on his head and pumped in five bullets. They celebrated his death with a dance and challenged the police to catch them if they can,” a shopkeeper told HT.

“We are working on the case and are hopeful of making early arrests,” Sub-Inspector Sikander Singh of Sangrur’s Longowal town said, noting the Facebook post is under the scanner.

Hardev Singh alias Happy, 25, was shot dead in Longowal town on 16 February.

Singh said they are trying to nab the accused including alleged mastermind Dalvinder Singh alias Babbl Randhawa.

Happy had a verbal duel with Randhawa on January 31 and had been staying in Chandigarh after that, police said.

However, the victim was shot dead the day he entered his hometown on Thursday.

Randhawa posted four videos on his Facebook page after the crime, police said. According to them, Randhawa is seen listening to a Punjabi song and flashing a gun in the video.

The accused is also seen challenging cops to try and nab them, Singh said.

Six police teams have been dispatched to apprehend the accused.

Preliminary investigations have found that the victim and the main accused had some monetary dispute.

Meanwhile, SSP Sangrur, Inderbir Singh said that they have apprehended a few persons for interrogation in connection with the murder incident.

“We have apprehended a few persons, we are questioning them,” Singh said.

He said that raids were on at the possible hideouts of the main accused and his accomplices and police were hopeful of making early arrests.

Asked about the videos posted by the main accused on the Fabebook page, Singh said, “we have taken cognizance of that. We have some lead, but we cannot share the details”.


The Tribune – Seechewal model to be replicated in Bihar

Aparna Banerji, Tribune News Service

Sultanpur Lodhi, 19 February 2017. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar said today that the Seechewal model to use sewage water for irrigation would be replicated across villages in his state.

He said environmentalist Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal’s efforts to restore the flow of the once-choked Kali Bein would also be emulated in the case of the Ganga in Bihar.

Visiting Sultanpur Lodhi with a team of irrigation experts from his state, Nitish said the Centre’s “swachhta” push alone wouldn’t be enough to ensure silt-free flow of the Ganga.

“Silt deposits in the Ganga are a major cause of concern, especially after the construction of a barrage recently,” he added. Nitish is the fourth CM to bat for the Seechewal model.

He has invited the environmentalist for an international conference to be held in Bihar on February 26. Experts will dwell upon the restoration of the Ganga’s flow and water conservation.


Dawn – Tracking the footprints: All roads lead to South Punjab

Nasir Jamal

Panjab, 19 February 2017. The year witnessed a significant de-escalation in terrorist and sectarian attacks in south Punjab as militant violence mostly shifted elsewhere, mainly to the northern cities, in the province.

Apart from a deadly attack on a gathering at the election office of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) legislator Amjad Farooq Khosa in Taunsa near DG Khan in mid-October and a suicide raid in Multan, no other significant incident of violence took place in the southern Punjab that made headlines a year earlier as the hub of nationwide militant activity, especially in Urban Pakistan.

Having said that, the ‘footprints’ the militants left behind elsewhere in the province have more often than not led the investigators back to the southern districts to hunt for suspects and their abettors. “Even of the two California shooting suspects, Tafsheen Malik had links with south Punjab,” a former Punjab counter-terrorism official sighed.

It, therefore, surprised few when police claimed to have arrested 140 suspects from south Punjab just days after a suicide bomber assassinated provincial home minister Shuja Khanzada along with several others at his election office in Attock in mid-August.

“The arrested suspects were linked to various banned faith-based militant organisations active across the province and some of them carried a bounty on their head,” a Punjab police official had said at the time.

A spokesman for Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was carried out to avenge the killing of Malik Ishaq, the emir of the deadly Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

He went on to say that the attack was carried out with the help of a banned group active in Punjab.

Malik Ishaq’s killing on the outskirts of Muzaffargarh, again a south Punjab district, in a ‘shootout’ with his supporters who were trying to free him revved up hopes that the provincial government had finally woken up to the challenge and was ready to destroy terrorist infrastructure.

However, all hopes were lost when the government failed to initiate a comprehensive police operation.

Even though the National Action Plan (NAP) promises to take action against seminaries involved in militancy, the government has dithered on bringing them under control for fear of backlash from the religious parties as well as the militants.

Police claims having carried out intelligence-based operations throughout the province, denying the presence of a strong network and infrastructure of banned militant groups in south Punjab.

“You do not conduct large-scale operations in any area just on the basis of speculation and public perception,” a police official said, adding: “It is not feasible to undertake such an operation in cities. We’re conducting search raids across the province and not just in one particular region.”

Though the official claimed to have arrested hundreds of suspects, killed many, and recovered arms and ammunition, but was not prepared to concede that the militants still have a large network in the region.

Analysts believe that south Punjab, with thousands of seminaries and a history of having provided foot soldiers to militant and sectarian outfits for decades, now offers a promising opportunity for Islamic State (IS) to strengthen its network in the region.

“The main battle has to be fought in the tribal backyard, but the job will remain half-done unless the militant sanctuaries and support networks in the cities both in southern and northern Punjab are completely dismantled,” warned a Lahore-based security analyst.


The Indian Express – Ludhiana: EC team inspects strongrooms, AAP sticks to its ‘security breach’ claim

A meeting was also held with candidates and their representatives from all the parties at Bachat Bhawan.

Divya Goyal

Ludhiana, 17 February 2017, In connection with a complaint by AAP alleging ‘inappropriate and negligent’ security measures for strong rooms across Punjab, a two-member team of the Election Commission visited Ludhiana Thursday.

Headed by Himachal Pradesh chief electoral officer Narinder Chauhan, the team inspected strongrooms at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) where EVMs for some constituencies are kept.

A meeting was also held with candidates and their representatives from all the parties at Bachat Bhawan. In an official statement, the district administration claimed that ‘no anomalies were found in security arrangements.

However, AAP stood firm on its complaint of ‘security breach’ on February 6 in strongrooms of the Gill constituency.

Darshan Singh, media coordinator of AAP Ludhiana zone, said, “The CCTV footage shows the RO moving trunks in two rooms outside strongroom.

Ravi Bhagat, Ludhiana deputy commissioner and chief electoral officer, said, “All candidates were asked to put forth their queries to the EC team. The team has not found any problem in security arrangements outside strong rooms.”

Ludhiana: EC team inspects strongrooms, AAP sticks to its ‘security breach’ claim

The Tribune – ‘Sewa’ volunteers told to carry ID card

G S Paul, Tribune News Service

Amritsar, 17 February 2017. A day after two robbers, who targeted devotees, were arrested in Amritsar, the SGPC has stepped up security at the Golden Temple complex, especially in and around Guru Ram Dass Langar Hall.

The SGPC has issued directions that any devotee who volunteers for ‘sewa’ in the langar hall should possess a valid identity card. The SGPC has also increased the movement of its task force in the shrine complex.

The CIA staff had arrested two miscreants for robbing devotees who had come to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple from Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in Delhi.

The accused were identified as Gurmeet Singh alias Pappu of Delhi, who now stays in Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar here, and Lakhwinder Singh, alias Lucky, of the same locality. Golden Temple manager Sulakhan Singh claimed that the accused were nabbed by the SGPC task force and handed over to the police.

Barring the few who have been regularly serving at the langar hall or its kitchen, no one will be allowed unless he or she produces a valid ID card. The devotee who intends to perform ‘sewa’ will have to mention his or her name in the identification register.

“They will have to deposit their ID card which will be returned when they leave. A team of 10 staffers in plain clothes will keep a vigil on the premises,” he said.