LAHORE - Special search and comb operations have been launched in the Punjab, dividing the province into sensitive and highly sensitive zones on the directions of the COAS and the prime minister for aggressive and accelerated counter-terror actions, senior security officials told The Nation yesterday.

The new anti-terror initiative came against the backdrop of the deadly terror attack on hospital in Quetta on Monday that killed more than 70 people.

The S&C operations will be coupled with Search and Destroy (S&D) raids when and where needed. Differentiating between special ‘search and comb’ and ‘search and destroy’ operations, they said the first type deals with frontline of terrorists and their sleepers. The enemy is to be searched and destroyed through special operations. The second type deals with their remains which include second and third-level sleeper units as well as their facilitators.

The special operations are country-wide and mostly of the category of intelligence-led operations launched with elite counter-terror units of the armed forces. The category of intelligence-based operations is led by civilian security services and, in some cases, with the assistance of military agencies.

The military agencies will seek the assistance of their civilian counterparts where they deem necessary.

Intelligence sharing and other coordination among the military and civilian security agencies will be channeled through provincial, divisional and district apex committees for the new counter-terror actions, said security officials, while sharing information about cooperation among the military and civilian agencies.

The security officials refused to oblige the paper regarding the information concerning sensitive and highly sensitive zones.

However, according to the assessment of a top security official of the Punjab, Mianwali, Attock, Sargodha, Chakwal, Rawalpindi, Sheikhupura, Nankana Sahib, Okara, Faisalabad, Rajanpur-Rojhan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rahim Yar Khan, Muzaffargarh, Layyah, Bahawalpur and Lodhran districts are likely to fall under highly sensitive zones. The remaining districts fall under sensitive zones.

Intelligence-led operations were earlier carried out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and parts of the other three provinces to take out high-value targets.

The anti-terror raids, under the category of intelligence-based operations in which paramilitary forces and counter-terrorism departments took part, had also neutralised enemies of the state in the earlier operations.

Meanwhile, a renewed nexus among banned outfits and organised crime gangs in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan is the source of new surge in terror wave which is otherwise pinned down through counter-terror operations across the country, say intelligence agencies’ threat assessments.

The nexus among the remains of the banned outfits and their sleeper cells have been spotted by the intelligence agencies in Larkana, Sukkur, Kashmore, Jamshoro and Ghotki districts of Sindh.

More than two high-profile sleeper units of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have been caught by a top civilian intelligence service from the residence of Sindhi militant separatist organization, Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz.

In security sweeps of an intelligence agency of the military in Sehwan Sharif (Jamshoro) and Sukkur, five mid-ranking militant leaders of Balochistan Liberation Army and Balochistan Liberation Front were caught from a hideout of LeJ, Sindh chapter.

In one of the intelligence-led raids in Karachi to hunt down a key Al-Qaeda commander, members of TTP Geedar Group, led by Umar Naray, were caught by a premier intelligence agency of the army.

During the raid, a leading counter-terrorism officer, Assistant Director Muhammad Sajjad, embraced martyrdom while the Al-Qaeda commander was also killed.

As a result of this nexus, banned outfits belonging to outlawed TTP, Baloch and Sindhi militant separatist organizations help each other in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab, said the intelligence agencies’ threat assessments.

The southern parts of the Punjab are still considered as the favourite safe havens of terrorists and organised criminal gangs with contacts between the banned outfits and criminal gangs in Sindh and the Punjab.

A recent secret report of an intelligence agency of the military has warned the Punjab government of the resurgence of organised criminal gangs in the Rojhan area of Rajanpur district. The same riverine no-go area was cleared by the army special services units and its key intelligence service after the failure of the operation launched by the Punjab police and its allied departments.

The report said that new criminal gangs, allegedly with the connivance of local police establishing their foothold in the same area and gathering light and heavy weapons to become unchallengeable like Ghulam Rasool alias Chhotu, the notorious gangster, who was hunted down through the military operation sometimes ago.