Pakistani counter-terrorism police killed at least five people Wednesday and arrested scores more in what it described as an intensified crackdown following a deadly suicide bombing at a public park in the eastern city of Lahore.
Police in Punjab province raided a house in Raiwind, outside Lahore, and killed five suspected militants in a shootout, Pakistani media reported. Nearly 80 people were arrested in total from two other districts in Punjab, Pakistani news channel Geo News reported.
Yet the early days of Pakistan’s probe into Sunday’s bombing at the Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore, which left 72 people dead including at least 25 children, have renewed criticism of the government’s counter-terrorism policies.
The arrests and subsequent releases gave the appearance of a government “groping in the dark” to demonstrate its resolve following the latest militant attack against civilians, according to a report Wednesday in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.
“This is more for the consumption of the public,” Mehsud said in an interview. “They just round up these guys, and after a few days, when the furor dies down, they release them for lack of evidence. I don’t see it as any meaningful action.”
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group that claimed responsibility for the bombing, has carried out several high-profile attacks in recent years. Investigators in Punjab said they found evidence at the blast site that matched evidence collected from three other attacks over the past year and a half, including two suicide attacks on churches in Youhanabad last year that killed at least 15 people.
One of several splinter groups that have broken with the Pakistani Taliban in recent years, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has quickly established itself as one of the most dangerous, experts said.
Pakistan has long struggled to rein in militants, in part because elements of the Pakistani security establishment have in the past nurtured extremist groups that have carried out attacks in neighboring India and Afghanistan. Militant groups that target the Pakistani state have taken advantage of the havens, experts say.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar fighters crossed the border from the tribal belt into Afghanistan’s Kunar province, where they appear to be unhindered by an Afghan government that is struggling to contain its own Taliban insurgency, Mehsud said.
“It’s pretty obvious that they are being funded very well, whoever is funding them,” Mehsud said. “It’s quite obvious that in Kunar they have a safe haven and that Afghan forces are not doing anything about it. And their network within Pakistan remains intact – the Pakistani security apparatus has failed to break that network.”
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