Zarb-i-Azb: Two years down the line
ON June 15, 2014 Pakistani military announced a wide scale operation against miscreants in the FATA and adjoining areas of North Waziristan after the peace negotiations between the Taliban and the government failed. This military operation was one of its kind against all the terrorists which belonged to different cliques of TTP, East Turkestan Islamic Movement, Al-Qaeda and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Prior to Zarb-i-Azb many other smaller military operations were held in areas where hide outs of insurgents were traced and later annihilated in various phases. While Pakistan continued to face menace of terrorism it was necessary to carry out extensive military manoeuvre which not only breaks the terrorist networks but their abilities to carry out attempts of insurgency throughout the country.
Operation Zarb-i-Azb name refers to the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H) sword which he used during battles and means sharp and cutting strike. This widespread operation was decided when Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan holding a strong network was carrying out attacks in Pakistan despite being brought on dialogue table for negotiations. On June 10, 2014 TTP claimed the responsibility for Jinnah International Airport, Karachi after which air strikes were carried out on safe havens of militants in areas of FATA. All the Pakistani political parties were taken into confidence and they showed unanimity that a time has come now to curb out militancy from country without any further delay.
While Zarb-i-Azb marks two years on June 15, last phase of it has already been announced in April, 2016. This military task has surely broken the back bone of terrorists and the militants’ capability to carry out any attack has reduced to more than half. It is worth mentioning that militant attacks escalated in Pakistan after Lal Masjid Operation in July 2007 and then situation further worsened after formation of Tehreek-e-Taliban. Operation Zarb-i-Azb not only improved overall security situation in the country but it also caused serious indentations to the unity of TTP. TTP splinted into at least three major factions. This operation forced senior leadership of the militants to flee and thus cut off effective communication between top leadership with middle and low level field commanders.
Statistical figures of two years show that Zarb-i-Azb is quite successful in wiping out militants and their safe havens. Varied intelligence based operations were quite helpful in locating sanctuaries of militants and their facilitators. In this comprehensive operation along with large number of IBO’s many weapons from militants were recovered and destroyed. Pak Army officers and personnel while coming across militants also embraced martyrdom including many injured and handicapped for rest of their lives but their commitment to safeguard motherland is highly substantial. Pakistan Air Force also played a key role in this operation and air raids prior to ground actions helped military to occupy area from terrorists.
While Operation Zarb-i-Azb was decided to carry out in North Waziristan there was an issue of local populace as to where they will be adjusted and how long will be the process of their rehabilitation. A large number of families moved mostly to KPK province when operation was announced but with the passage of time many moved back to their native areas once they were declared clear by Pakistan military. An exceptional arrangements were seen by Pakistan Army in giving a warm welcome to Temporarily Displaced Persons or TDP’s. They not only provided them food and shelter but opportunities for livelihood, medical care and education.
Despite financial losses in war on terror, this operation somehow is successful in restoring peace within Pakistan. Though militants still manage to carry out any major attack but there is a significant decline in their attacks and resultant deaths and injuries. However there is still a room for improvement on government side to properly implement National Action Plan and work on foreign policy of Pakistan to achieve fruitful benefits of military operation. Suicide attacks which happened on regular basis before operation are now reduced to more than half and similarly other patterns of attack by terrorist have also declined. All efforts for cutting peril of extremism remain aside without regional cooperation. Particularly Afghan factor is pertinent in restoring peace as both Afghanistan and Pakistan share border and despite many efforts by Pakistan border miscreants’ infiltration from Afghanistan proves troublesome for Pakistan. Not only Afghanistan but USA is also a key player in war on terror and any wrong step like use of drones without prior warning not only creates unrest among locals but distrust between two countries relations also. All stakeholders need to understand Pakistan’s challenges with regard to porous border, inter-tribal linkages and decades-old presence of over three million refugees. Therefore, flawless strategies with regard to foreign policy, economic stability and coherent social security can help in achieving best results of Zarb-i- Azb. — The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think tank based in Islamabad.