The ruling PML-N had to face the bitter truth about spiralling extremism in Punjab when Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told a top-level meeting that the number of proscribed organisations actively engaged in terrorism and extremism in that province alone had reached 95.
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During the briefing on the status of implementation of the National Action Plan to counter terrorism and extremism, Chaudhry Nisar said that law-enforcement agencies were proactively monitoring madressahs to check the spread of terrorist ideology in the country. While an official statement released after the meeting did not include the names of the banned organisations in question, the new number was substantially greater than the total number of organisations listed as banned in the national security policy document the government put out in early 2014. This shows that the Shahbaz Sharif-led Punjab government had failed to check the spread of such outfits, despite repeated reminders by the media about the militant presence festering in the province, said one government critic, adding that “all these militant outfits have been present in Punjab for quite some time, but instead of acting against them, the PML-N preferred to cohabitate with them”.
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Officials privy to the meeting told Dawn that at the moment it was difficult to categorise the banned outfits that Chaudhry Nisar had mentioned in his briefing. However, they did reveal that most of these groups were concentrated in the southern districts of the province. But an interior ministry official told Dawn that the organisations had expanded their spheres of influence all across the province, which was quite a worrying scenario. Talking about the increase in the number of banned organisations, he said: “This is quite a large jump, but the scope and types of these groups remain to be seen.” In Wednesday’s briefing, Chaudhry Nisar also told participants that since the launch of the NAP last month, a total of 341 persons involved in hate speech have been booked and 251 have been taken into custody. In addition, 41 shops disseminating hate material have been closed and nearly 1,100 have been reprimanded for the misuse of loudspeakers. Just in Islamabad, the interior minister said, law-enforcement agencies had picked up 180 individuals and formally charged 48 of them. In Punjab, around 14,000 suspects have been rounded up and 780 of them have been formally booked.
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The statement said that the PM also directed the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to ensure that funding to proscribed organisations was stopped and asked the IT ministry to take steps to ensure the blocking of websites and social media platforms that were being used by terrorist organisations. The PM said that the federal government would facilitate provinces and provide them all the assistance they needed, but stressed that they had to be proactive in their approach towards terrorism and extremism. Mr Sharif said that a state-of-the-art rapid response force was being formed to tackle terrorism, adding that “this properly equipped force would be trained on modern lines and given better pay packages”. The PM also called a meeting of all provincial chief ministers next week for a briefing on the progress made by their respective governments on the implementation of NAP.