LAHORE  - The Taliban have chosen Mullah Omar’s deputy to replace him. But nobody has been ‘notified’ yet as the successor of Malik Ishaq, the so-called chief of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who was killed by police along with his two sons and 11 commanders.

The revelation regarding the death of Mullah Muhammad Omar coincided with the killing of 14 LeJ men including its chief in Muzaffargarh district of the Punjab on Wednesday. The deaths of both the militants made headlines across the world.

Shortly after the armed encounter, a spokesperson for the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) termed the killings as a big blow to terrorists. “A chapter of target killings in South Punjab has been closed,” said the spokesperson.

“Malik Ishaq and Ghulam Rasool Shah were running a big gang of terrorists and target killers. These gangsters were also in league with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan TTP and Al-Qaeda groups operating in the area.”

Since TTP, Punjabi Taliban, and Al-Qaeda have the same ideology, their association with the Islamic State or ISIS is understandable. Many analysts say Malik Ishaq had links to the ISIS. The LeJ has been an ally to ISIS in waging war against the armed forces in collusion with local militants and facilitators. Malik Ishaq had established active cells in the Southern Punjab. The Punjab police record also reveals the LeJ chief mainly focused on his home division of Bahawalpur in recruiting militants. He also recruited youth from Sargodha, Multan, Lodhran, Bhakkar and Mianwali.

Official sources say they believe the killings of Ishaq and his accomplices will make a significant dent in the rank and file of terrorists and banned or proscribed organizations operating in the South Punjab.

The killings of top LeJ leadership in a staged police encounter, security experts believe, is a policy shift on the one hand. And the action is a strong message to the world in general and the militants in particular that the security forces are eliminating terrorists by showing zero-tolerance towards militancy.

It is very significant that no religious group or followers of the dead militant leaders dared stage protest demonstration in the province. While Friday is always a preferred day for religious groups to stage protest demonstrations soon after Juma prayers in Lahore, none of groups took to the streets. The police were strictly ordered to react quickly and pick up the protesters in case anyone tries to stage protest against the said killings.

Seriously, it seemed that all the followers, supporters, or sympathizers of the militant, who had become a symbol of terror for many Pakistanis, have gone underground.

Since the government has ordered the provincial governments to fully implement the national action plan (NAP) to quell extremism and militancy, the Punjab police are ruthlessly killing the criminals particularly the militants.

Interestingly, the police are actively fighting against the militants along with security and intelligence agencies. As per police record, at least 198 alleged criminals including many militants have been killed in police encounters during the first six months of this year across the Punjab province. Last year, the police during the same period had killed 141 alleged criminals in armed encounters. The police ‘encounters’ with the militants are likely to increase in the days ahead as the security and law enforcement agencies have stepped up clampdown on the extremists.

Malik Ishaq along with Akram Lahori and Riaz Basra had formed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 1996. Before 1996, Malik Ishaq, Akram Lahori, and Riaz Basra were among the central leadership of a proscribed outfit called, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). The trio launched the banned outfit LeJ after they developed differences with the SSP leadership.

In January this year, convicted sectarian terrorist Ikramul Haq alias Akram Lahori had been executed in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail. Riaz Basra, also accused of hundreds of sectarian killings, had been killed along with three of his accomplices in an encounter with the police in Mailsi Tehsil of District Vehari in May 2002.

Reports say the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat is unwilling to own slain Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) chief Malik Ishaq. According to one ASWJ leader, they were a ‘peace-loving party’ and could not own a person with militant background “so protesting on roads against the death of Malik Ishaq and others is out of question.” He said the party also did not have street power at present as the religious schools (madrassas) linked to the outfit are closed these days. Many security experts believe Malik Ishaq was a controversial leader even within his own party.

The ASWJ, currently led by Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, emerged after the SSP was banned and some well-wishers of the two groups attempted to unite them under one umbrella. Malik Ishaq was made vice-president of the outfit. However, he was removed from the office within months after he was jailed again. Malik’s group contested intra-party polls but lost badly to the Ludhianvi group, which supported legal ways and means for countering a rival sect. For an instance, in the last elections for Punjab chapter president his nominee and Maulana Azam Tariq’s son could not get more than a dozen votes against 1,200 of the rival group’s Shamsur Rehman, who was shot dead in Lahore a few months ago.

Security experts and political pundits say proscribed LeJ is unlikely to survive since its first, second, third, and fourth line leadership have been eliminated. However, the outfit had developed active cells, a network of facilitators in the Southern Punjab. The sons of Maulana Azam Tariq will not play any role in LeJ activities. Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi’s son had also been killed in Karachi a few years ago. Under such a scenario, the Malik’s death along with leading commanders has created a serious leadership crisis in LeJ. The backbone of the militant outfit is broken.