ISLAMABAD - The civil and military leadership yesterday put its weight behind the operation against militants in Punjab and once again expressed resolve to weed out menace of terrorism from the country.

The intelligence-based targeted offensive comes after a Taliban suicide bomber killed 73 people in a popular Lahore park on Easter day. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, the Taliban faction that carried out the bombing, said Christians were the target of the attack.

The reiteration to crush terrorists came at the 5th meeting of the National Security Committee of the Cabinet (NSCC), a forum for discussion on security issues by the civil and military leaders which had been dormant for many months.

The huddle of political and military leadership was quite regular over this period but these meeting were simply referred to as high level security meetings.

The NSCC meeting, chaired by Prime Minister at PM House, was briefed on the recently started Rangers’ operation in Punjab, particularly in the cities of southern Punjab – from where dozens of hardened criminals and militants linked to banned outfits have been rounded up during the series of operations over the past couple of weeks after the Lahore terror attack.

“Coordinated operations are underway against terrorists and hardened criminals,” read a military statement issued yesterday. The statement also included images of military helicopters hovering over the plains of Punjab and paramilitary troops loading ammunition into trucks and preparing for an operation.

Sources aware of the deliberations of the meeting informed The Nation that in the wake of ongoing military operation Zerb-i-Azb in the north-western tribal region of the country, scores of militants took refuge in the areas of southern Punjab bordering Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh provinces.

These no-go areas were already infamous for presence of outlaws and even police were often reluctant to make raids there. The militants fleeing North Waziristan operation not only found safe havens here but they, along with many sleeper cells of terrorist and banned sectarian outfits, kept on hitting the soft targets in the major urban centres of the country off and on.

Pakistan Army and Rangers launched the intelligence based operations (IBOs) in Punjab on March 27 in which dozens of militants were killed and hundreds of their facilitators arrested. A huge quantity of arms and ammunition was also recovered from their possession.

Later, the police and Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) also launched IBOs against anti-state elements. After consultations between the civil and military leadership, it was decided to take on terrorists in Punjab in concerted manner to make the operation more effective and result-oriented.

Scores of wanted elements – some of them hardened criminals and linked to major terror attacks in the country – were nabbed in the IBOs in Punjab, informed the military officials during the briefing on these operations to NSCC.

It was decided in the meeting that these operations would continue till the complete combing of these areas, and political and military leadership reiterated their resolve to flush militants out from their hideouts and smash the sleeper cells to make the ongoing military operation a complete success.

According to the brief press release issued by PM’s media section, the meeting was briefed on the steps being taken for national security in the country. The participants expressed satisfaction over the counter terrorism efforts of the security institutions which have also drawn wide and broad appreciation from the around the world.

The meeting also discussed at length the deliberations at the recently-held Nuclear Security Summit and expressed satisfaction over international acknowledgement of the safety and security standards of Pakistan’s nuclear security regime and the National Command Authority.

The meeting expressed concern over the apparent role of hostile agencies in Pakistan. The Armed Forces Development Programme including the procurement of F-16 fighter jets from the US was also discussed.

The meeting was attended by ministers for Finance, Defence, Interior and Information; Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee chairman; chiefs of the three armed services; ISI chief; National Security Adviser and other senior officials.

ISPR in its statement said, coordinated operations were underway in southern Punjab against terrorists and hardened criminals by law enforcement agencies – including Rangers, police and CTD – with the assistance of Pakistan Army. It said that many terrorists had managed to escape from Zarb-e-Azb operation and took refuge in remote areas of Rohjan and Kache in district Rahim Yaar Khan.

The military had stepped up Zarb-e-Azb operation in the hilly terrain along Afghanistan border after Taliban assault on a Peshawar school in 2014 that killed 150 people, mostly children. Last year the death toll from militant attacks was the lowest since the Pakistani Taliban was formed in 2007.

However, the country is still scarred by deadly attacks by terrorists, the Lahore park attack being its latest manifestation. This incident illuminated festering extremism in Punjab, the home province of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and authorities said they would launch a crackdown against militant groups in the province long considered a bastion of the establishment.