LAHORE -  The second suicide blast within 50 days in Lahore has put a question mark on the police security plan for a sprawling city where cops Thursday launched search operations afresh.

The alleged bomber, said to be an Afghani or Uzbek, targeted the census team in Lahore on Wednesday morning. Four soldiers of Pakistan Army and an off-duty officer of Pakistan Air Force were among six men who died in the suicide blast on Bedian road.

According to the counter terrorism department (CTD), the handler fled on his two-wheeler as he dropped the bomber close to a private van carrying census team. A major manhunt has been launched across the metropolis to unearth the handler but no arrest was made till late Thursday.

Wednesday’s blast occurred days after Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, while presiding over a law and order meeting, had ordered the law enforcement agencies to intensify security sweep at border posts and at the entry and exit points of the big cities. Security experts say the so-called search operations led by police could not stop suicide bombers and the government must prepare an effective strategy to intercept the movement of terrorists on roads.

“One thing is clear, the bomber did not use parachute to arrive in Lahore. Where he had been staying? Why the bomber and his facilitator were not stopped at check points,” questioned a senior official, who spoke to The Nation on the condition of anonymity.

On the other hand, Punjab law minister Rana Sana Ullah defends police strategy in the province. The minister told a private news channel the other day that body search of every citizen is humanly impossible in Lahore. He claimed that more than two million people arrive and leave Lahore every day. Therefore, it is not possible to search every person, the minister asserted.

Lahore was placed under high-alert weeks before the Bedian Road blast. Security agencies had also warned the provincial government about the possible suicide attack two weeks ago. The photo of an alleged bomber along with his particulars was also displayed in all the police stations of the provincial metropolis.

The law enforcement agencies were requested to intensify search operations and checking at police checkpoints, border posts, and at the entry and exit points of the big cities.

According to counter terrorism experts, the bomber and his facilitator were roaming on city roads on their motorcycle but there was no checking in the entire locality on Wednesday morning. “Even the facilitator fled without facing any resistance. If they were not locals, from where did they buy the bike? Where did they stay and who provided them the suicide jacket?” a security expert questioned while taking to The Nation.

He said that the “so-called” police search operations were merely misleading. He went on to say, “Did police make any important arrest during search operation (in Lahore) so far? What is the benefit of this bogus exercise? Are terrorists waiting for the police to come and verify their particulars or identity papers?”

Several locals, while talking to The Nation, complained that the police were minting money in the name of search operations. “Police-led search operations are always launched in low-income areas. Police never launched such midnight raids in the posh areas where influential people live,” said Ghulam Rasool, a resident of Kot Lakhpat.

Heavy police contingents launched search operation in the same Kot Lakhpat area Thursday and arrested some 25 suspects as they failed to produce identity papers during the checking. Police often pick up poor vendors, renters, and manual workers during search operations. Most of the suspects are released from police stations after verification of the documents.

“Once a person is shifted to the police station, he can’t get released without bribing police. Many Pakhtuns who work on ordinary jobs in town become prime target of police during the so-called security sweep,” Muhammad Abdullah Khan, a resident of Gulshan-e-Ravi said.

The local station house officers are asked to “arrange” food for dozens of policemen who took part in the search operations. In the recent past, city police detained mostly drug addicts, renters and workshop mechanic to fill registers. All were later released but at different rates.

City police registered thousands of cases against renters, property dealers, and house owners under the Punjab temporary residence act that binds registration of rented properties with the area police. Ironically, the provincial government has failed to develop a system for registration of tenants and guests in the country’s second most populated city. The use of police force to check renters has not proved helpful amid massive public complaints regarding police corruption.

Police sources last night said that investigators were working to ascertain the identity of the bomber by using fingerprints matching system and other forensic evidences. Many suspects are also being grilled at different facilities to arrest the handler, who was still at large.

Experts suggested that the police patrolling system must be improved in the Punjab capital where more than one hundred latest model elite police vehicles are permanently attached with “very important personalities”. No less than 200 constable drivers and hundreds of elite police commandoes are also deployed with the influential individuals to escort their convoys on city roads.

“We need a modern and multiple security mechanism to thwart the nefarious designs of anti-Pakistan elements by intercepting the movement of suspected suicide bombers. The authorities should wake up and take unprecedented security measures to secure big cities, at least,” said a former provincial police officer, who wished not to be named.