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Zarb-e-Azb, a Ray of hope in the pitch-dark night of terrorism

Pakistani political elite, has finally joined the Pakistan Army on the same hymn sheet against terrorist militants. It is very heartening for all patriotic Pakistanis that Pak army has launched a long-awaited major military offensive against the foreign and local militants in tribal areas. There had been a limited recalibration of Pakistani government on National security policy towards armed terrorist groups. The government of Pakistan initially focused on negotiating with the Taliban before using force, to bring them under the state’s control. However such measures baffled the nation. As, I mentioned in one of my previous column of 17th April 2014 that there was a very little prospect of a negotiated settlement.

The TTP under a new leadership of Mullah Fazlullah has a record of entering into deals with the government to buy time to amalgamate his own power. This is what he did in Swat when he entered into two arrangements with the government but reneged once he thought that he was in a gainful position to levy his will on the public. Swat agreement was aimed at ending violence but saw an increase instead as the Taliban took control of the Swat valley. The 2004 deal with militant leader Naik Mohammad resulting in the Shakai agreement was followed by an almost immediate withdrawal on his commitments. The agreement bolstered his legitimacy amongst the tribes and turned him into a veritable war lord. The 2005 Sararogha agreement with Baitullah Mehsud exacerbated the confrontations it aimed to reduce. It helped install Mehsud as the chief of the Pakistani Taliban. The appropriate move of launching operation Zarab-i- Azab commendably finishes the government's policy of negotiating peace with Pakistani Taliban militants instead of using force to end the years’ long terrorism ad militancy.

Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa in the press release of the operation launch has rightly mentioned that "Using North Waziristan as a base, the terrorists had waged a war against the state of Pakistan’’. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan covers an area of 27, 270 sq. kilometres. This tremendously small area, however, is home to over roughly 45,000 militants and forty militant groups, amongst them are the Afghan Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al- Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and the Pakistani Taliban. There has been mounting National and International frustration since 2010 that the army’s offensive in South Waziristan was not extended to North Waziristan, to which many armed militants absconded.

The Pakistani Taliban insurgent movement is not simply a tribal or an Islamist insurrection. Individual Pakistani Taliban militants have been involved in transnational terrorism through their group’s alliance with al-Qaeda. Some of them are driven by criminality, while others are disciplined and are fighting to evict the Pakistani authorities from these areas to impose the illegitimacy of its self-declared state of the Islamic Emirate of tribal areas.

Bombings, including suicide strikes, appear to be the group’s preferred modus operandi, these being targeted especially at the Pakistani security forces and symbols of the state. Illegal FM radio channels and the circulation of DVD, CDs and pro-TTP newspapers and websites serve to promote the organization’s propaganda campaign. Child recruitment appears common; certain Pakistani Taliban commanders bear a specific responsibility for training suicide bombers, and a significant amount of propaganda material is directed at young people. Innumerable financial sources swell TTP coffers, including criminal activity, ‘protection money’ and donations from sympathisers inside and outside of Pakistan.

For more than 10 years, the Pakistani military, with limited resources has fought a very difficult war of attrition against an elusive enemy. According to the statistics of South Asian Terrorism portal from 2003 to April 2014 Pakistan has lost 18775 Civilians and 5681 security forces personals in terrorist violence. It has also resulted in to destruction of infrastructure, internal migration of millions of people from parts of north western Pakistan, erosions of investment climate, nose diving of production and growing unemployment and above all brought economic activity to a virtual standstill in many part of the country. Pakistan had never witnessed such devastating social and economic upheaval in its industry, even after dismemberment of the country by direct war.

Kidnapping incidents of government officials and security forces by terrorists have become a frequent feature of terrorism in Pakistan. Terrorist organizations ambush convoys of government officials, including the foreign dignitaries and members of the police and armed forces, when they are traveling in small groups and with less security. After the abduction, the terrorists take the hostages to underground places and present a list of demands to the government.

Like Iraq and Afghanistan, suicide terrorism has become the most lethal and devastating method of terrorism in Pakistan. In the last few years, an ever-increasing supply of mentally indoctrinated individuals, with high motivation for heavenly life after death, has taken hundreds of lives in Pakistan. The ineffectiveness of a counter strategy to the threat of suicide terrorism has become a grave concern for the Pakistani Nation. Suicide terrorists select high profile targets or attack security forces with the intent to create real panic among the masses after each attack. Suicide attacks cause multiple deaths and grave damage to property. More importantly, people react to suicide incidents with exceptional horror, more so than to conventional terrorist attacks.

Terrorists, especially in tribal areas near the Pak-Afghan border, skill-fully plan and use the local public as human shields. In some cases, where the writ of the state is weak and the terrorists have influence, they force or threaten the locals to stay around them and provide them support against security forces. They ensure that no local person gives any information about the terrorists to government agencies, they ruthlessly kill suspects in public. This warns others not to attempt such ventures in the future. This phenomenon of human shield leads to collateral damage and causes death or injuries to innocent people.

The Pakistan Army has been involved in safeguarding security and stability through tackling terrorism and militancy in FATA. Since 2001, it has successfully conducted 5 major counter-terrorism operations. During winter of 2001, Pakistan’s armed forces in collaboration with U.S. participated in operation ‘enduring freedom’ in Khyber and Kurram tribal agencies. Our armed forces played a pivotal role in capturing many prominent Al Qaeda leaders and foreigners, including Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Sharib Ahmad. Operation Al Mizan involved numerous smaller operations. The army conducted key search operations across a 36-km area west of Wana that was hub of terrorists, including Naik Muhammad Wazir, Noor-ul-Islam, Haji Muhammad Shareef, Maulavi Abbas and Maulavi Abdul Aziz, who were suspected of protecting foreign fighters.

Frontier Corps launched Operation Sher Dil in September 2008. By early December, over 1,000 militants and 63 security personnel had been killed. Pakistani forces found tunnel complexes used for hiding people and storing material such as armaments, ammo, radio frequency lists, guerrilla-warfare manuals, propaganda and bomb-making instructions. Operation Rah-e-Haq was conducted in two phases during November 2007 and from summer till winter 2008 in Swat. During operation 36 security personals and nine members of the public embraced martyrdom and 615 terrorist got killed.

In summer, 2009, Pakistan army launched operation Rah-i-Rast to abolish the key leaders of Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups in Swat. Military regained the control of these areas and destroyed concrete bunkers while confiscating weapons, ammo and explosives hidden in caves.

Pakistan Army and Air Force jointly conducted a targeted operation Rah-i-Nijat in South Waziristan during summer 2009. By the end of year 2009, Pak army controlled most of Ladha, Makin, and Sararogha areas. Army also disrupted TTP command and control system in the key Mehsud areas of South Waziristan.

The Pakistani military’s large-scale domestic air and ground operation Zarb-e-Azb  is unparalleled in the country’s history and, for many observers, reflect a new recognition among Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders, alike, that Taliban militants had become a ominous threat to Pakistan’s security and stability. The operation will enable the country to generate a matching response to the despicable designs of the terrorist. It is indeed a ray of hope in the pitch-dark night of terrorism. 

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