Zarb-i-Azb: Two years down the line

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Reema Shaukat Email:

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.

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