ISLAMABAD - Civilian law enforcement agencies (LEAs) seem not fully prepared to deal with the threat posed by militants returning from battlefields of Syria and Iraq.

These returnees, if not intercepted at border crossings, could sabotage the multi-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project besides launching other terrorist activities in the country, warns a threat alert.

The threat alert issued recently by the Punjab government's Provincial Intelligence Centre (PIC) says that a large number of hardened militants fighting in the Middle East are returning to Pakistan and Afghanistan and they could launch attacks upon their return.

"A large number of hardened militants including Uyghur from Xinjiang Province (of China) are returning from Syria and Iraq to Indonesia, Afghanistan and Pakistan and there is a possibility of attacks by ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) and IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) with active involvement of a foreign terrorist organization (Mubashar Group) and BLA," says the threat alert.

The alert further says that firearms, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), knives and vehicles ramming tactics etc could be used against soft targets and the CPEC project.  The Punjab government had issued a similar threat alert some weeks ago.

Background interviews with senior officers indicate that the civilian LEAs were not fully prepared to stop the militants’ inflow into Pakistan. Some believe that such alerts are very vague in nature.

A senior officer at the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), the only counter terrorism body at the federal level, said that the role of the authority was only coordination among different agencies and provinces and such alerts were passed on to the provinces and LEAs for taking up precautionary measures. The officer, however, avoided answering when asked what kind of measures the LEAs have taken as a precautionary step after the alert and what advisory the NACT has issued to the security apparatus. "The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) uses integrated border management system (IBMS) installed at all airports and some border points to check the flow of suspected persons in the country," the officer said but admitted that most of the militants may enter the country through land routes.

He said that it would always remain difficult to stop entry of these militants into Pakistan via land routes because Pakistan has a porous border with Afghanistan, Indian Iran and China.

“Threats alerts are issued in bulk by different intelligence agencies as well as they contain very vague information and it is very difficult to take necessary measures on the basis of such alerts,” another senior federal government officer, who is connected with internal security issues, said while wishing anonymity.

An FIA officer said that the agency was carrying out strict monitoring at all airports and some land routes being managed by it. “It would always be impossible to track a suspected militant whose details are not installed in the agency’s tracking system,” he said.

Muhammad Amir Rana, security analyst and head of an Islamabad-based think tank, said that the specific threat alert was very vague in nature. "Afghan Taliban have already eliminated IMU in the Helmed province of Afghanistan," he said adding that the militant organisation (IMU) had no roots in Pakistan. Similarly, militants belonging to ETIM have not gone to Syria and Iraq from Pakistan rather they may have left from Xinjiang Province of China. Such reports had also come to the fore in the past as well, he said.

Rana said that two trends have emerged among militants, who have been fighting in the Middle East and returned to Europe. Some militants have returned frustrated and they were no more interested in fighting and the other ones were determined to fight. Such kind of militants could also be a threat for Pakistan, he said.

While talking about threat alerts, Rana said that the assessment of such threats was very random. “Most threats were issued on the basis of the communication interceptions. There are low chances of getting accurate information from these interceptions. Only that information is accurate that is provided by the moles of intelligence agencies working in the networks of militants," he said. He said that LEAs only increase vigilance at main crossing points at borders to check the movement of militants but this practice is not very much effective.