LAHORE – The Punjab police have observed that a de-radicalisation programme aimed at converting hard-line clerics, to prevent them from falling into the hands of extremists, has been slowly and gradually moving towards success.

Most of the noted religious leaders, agreeing with the programme of de-radicalisation and rehabilitation of former militants and pro-militants, are extending full cooperation to the government and law enforcing agencies.

“This is really a positive development. We are implementing a two-pronged strategy to quell extremism from the most populated province,” Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Muhammad Habib-ur-Rehman told TheNation on Friday.

While explaining the two-pronged strategy against militancy, the provincial police chief said the field officers were trying to reverse those who had been brainwashed in the early 1990s by using different techniques with the help of moderate scholars.

Secondly, a massive crackdown is underway in the province to bring to justice those hardliners who are found involved in making hatred-speeches and spreading provocative materials to hurt the sentiments of others.

It is important to mention here that the police had launched the de-radicalisation programme some three months ago. The top police officers from different sections of the police including the Counter-Terrorism met at the Central Police Office (CPO) and reviewed the outcome of the campaign in detail.

Responding to a question about the crackdown launched against militants and banned outfits, the IGP said special teams comprising senior officers at the district level had been constituted and the clamp down was ordered against more than a dozen banned outfits.

The police are aggressively registering cases under 16-MPO and in some cases under the Anti-Terrorist Act against the hardliners. The leaders of banned outfits were not allowed to address public gatherings and processions anywhere in the province, he maintained.

“The police have already prepared the lists of religious leaders and clerics belonging to all school of thoughts. The Special Branch, an intelligence wing of the Punjab police, is regularly monitoring the speeches and activities of these clerics,” Muhammad Habib-ur-Rehman said. When asked about the religious leaders detained or put on the watch-list, the police chief said activities of all hard-line clerics, either in jails or religious schools, were being monitored.

The IGP also disclosed to this reporter that during the past four months, more than 100 cases had been registered against the elements who were found involved in making hatred-speeches and spreading religious propaganda.

Police sources further revealed that apart from the district police, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), Special Branch and the Special Investigations Cells of the Punjab police have been activated and assigned the task in this regard.

The police teams have also been asked to establish close contacts with intelligence officers, serving in the districts, to exchange information and launch joint raids in case concrete and actionable information is available. The clamp down on seminaries of banned outfits, located in the sensitive areas of the province, is said to be part of the police deterrence campaign to identity, monitor, and hunt down the miscreants, official sources claimed.

Another senior officer in the provincial police headquarters informed that more than 200 suspects have been detained in Lahore, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Bahawalpur, Chakwal, Sahiwal, Jhang, Okara and Multan districts during the last couple of months.

The police teams have also been directed to strictly monitor some 50 religious seminaries identified as suspicious and located in different parts of the province. Most of the Madrassas put under strict surveillance are situated in Lahore, Jhang, Bahawalpur, Multan, Rawalpindi, and Dera Ghazi Khan.

The police are aggressively working to neutralise the hardliners belonging to the Ahl-i-Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Tehrik-e-Jafriya, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan, Islami Tehrik Pakistan, Jamiat-ul-Ansar and Jamiat-ul-Furqan. The police are also directed to hunt down those who had been financing the banned outfits by examining their other funding sources and taking action under 16-MPO (Maintenance of Public Order).