The Pakistani militants who bombed a Lahore park on Easter Sunday, killing 70 people, taunted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today (29 March), declaring their war had come to his doorstep.
The military has said it is hunting the Taliban’s Jamaat-ur-Ahrar faction and has carried out several raids since the suicide bombing, but neither the military nor the government has given any details.
Jamaat-ur-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it had targeted Christians celebrating Easter and warning it would step up attacks.
Lahore is the capital of Punjab, Pakistan’s richest and most populous province and Sharif’s political heartland.
“Let Nawaz Sharif know that this war has now come to the threshold of his home,” tweeted Jamaat-ur-Ahrar spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. “The winners of this war will, God willing, be the righteous mujahideen.”
Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, an independent faction of the Pakistani Taliban which and also previously declared loyalty to Islamic State, has carried out five major attacks in Pakistan since December.
In a televised address to the nation on Monday, Sharif vowed to continue pursuing militant groups.
“I am here to renew a pledge that we are keeping count of every drop of blood of our martyrs. This account is being settled, and we will not rest till it is paid,” Sharif said.
The prime minister did not mention what steps would be taken in the aftermath of Pakistan’s worst militant attack since gunmen stormed a Peshawar school in December 2014, killing 134 children.
Military and government officials on Monday said that the military was preparing to launch a new paramilitary counterterrorism crackdown in Punjab.
The move, which has not yet been formally announced, represents the civilian government once again granting special powers to the military to fight Islamist militants.
“The PM ordered a joint operation of the counterterrorism department and Rangers in the border areas of Punjab against terrorists and their facilitators,” said one government official who attended a meeting with Sharif and Punjab officials on Monday.
Two military officials and one other government official confirmed the decision on condition of anonymity. Sharif made no mention of the crackdown in his speech, and his party has long opposed any militarized operation against militants in its heartland.
The government also announced that Sharif would be cancelling a planned trip to the United States to attend the Nuclear Security Summit, due to begin on Thursday.
Pakistan’s security agencies have long been accused of nurturing some militants to use for help in pursuing objectives in Afghanistan and against old rival India.
The Pakistani Taliban are fighting to topple the government and install a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Sharif’s opponents have accused him of tolerating militancy in return for peace in his province, a charge he strongly denies.