Two top Punjabi Taliban commanders, who are believed to have masterminded the recent attack on the army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and other high-profile terror strikes in Lahore, have been arrested by Pakistani security agencies.
The two commanders identified only as Iqbal and Gul Muhammad, both hailing from Faisalabad were arrested earlier this week by law enforcement agencies.
They were members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan's 'Shura' or council of about top 40 commanders that coordinates and oversees militant activities across the country.
Iqbal and Gul Muhammad, who were in charge of militancy in Pakistan's most populous province of Punjab, served as the link between the Taliban's main leadership in Waziristan tribal region and the Punjabi Taliban network, a conglomerate of sectarian and Kashmir-focussed groups blamed for recent attacks in Lahore and other cities.
Their arrest is being described by security agencies as a major breakthrough against the Punjabi Taliban, senior officials were quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.
They were apprehended following telephone intercepts by intelligence agencies and disclosures by Muhammad Aqeel alias Dr Usman, who led the October 10 attack on the army's General Headquarters and was the only terrorist to be arrested after a 22-hour hostage crisis.
The nine other attackers died during the assault.
Iqbal and Gul Muhammad are believed to be of the same rank in the militant hierarchy as Aqeel, who too has been described as a member of the Taliban 'Shura'.
Sources said the duo was involved in most of the major attacks in Punjab this year, including three coordinated attacks on a Federal Investigation Agency office and two police training centres in Lahore on October 15.
At least one of them is also believed to have escorted the attackers who struck the General Headquarters.
The Punjab-based Amjad Farooqi faction of the Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the attacks on the General Headquarters and security facilities in Lahore.
This faction had also been linked to the suicide bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad and earlier attacks on the naval war college and FIA office in Lahore.
The Taliban stepped up attacks in Punjab and North West Frontier Province before the army launched a major operation over the weekend to flush out militants from South Waziristan.
The PML-N-led Punjab government has so far played down reports about the rise of the Punjabi Taliban, especially in southern parts of the province and has ruled out any major operation to flush out militants from southern Punjab, where groups like banned Jaish-e-Muhammad have a sizeable presence.
Analysts believe the growing role of the Punjabi Taliban has heightened the militant threat in the Punjabi heartland and the rest of the country because Punjabi militants are considered more ruthless than their Pashtun counterparts. Punjabi militants have gained considerable experience by fighting in Jammu and Kashmir and Afghanistan.