On the first anniversary of the launch of the Zarb-e-Azb the army released data of significant gains against the menace of terrorism: 2763 terrorists killed, 837 hideouts destroyed and 253 tons of explosives recovered. Major-General Asim Bajwa, military spokesman, confirmed that there have been significant achievements with “strongholds, communication infrastructure and sanctuaries” of militants largely cleared as “operation Zarb-e-Azb moves to the last few pockets close to Pakistan-Afghan border.”
Two obvious conclusions can be drawn from the one-year-old operation. First and foremost, a dramatic shift in institutional strategy dealing with terrorism took place last year that many attribute to the chief of army staff (CoAS) Raheel Sharif and others to the collective decision by the corps commanders led by their chief. The new strategy was considered necessary to quell the rising terror attacks in the country that were taking an increasingly heavy toll on human life as well as on individual and state-owned physical assets and required that the distinction between good and bad Taliban be abandoned in favour of going after all those with intent to launch terror attacks. It was this change in strategy that accounts for the reception that was accorded to CoAS when he visited the US – the offices of the State Department were opened during the thanksgiving holidays – and the UK. And, secondly, there has been a visible thawing of relations with Afghanistan this year past – relations that had remained strained during the tenure of our previous two army chiefs, namely Musharraf and Kayani. One cannot discount the fact that General Raheel Sharif, fortuitously, had a much easier time with the end of Hamid Karzai’s tenure, a long-time critic of all Pakistani actions. President Ashraf Ghani has brought the two countries closer together with Pakistani military personnel training Afghan military recruits and Afghan students studying in our universities. Additionally, during the last high-level visit of Pakistani civilian and military leadership to Kabul General Raheel Sharif stated that Pakistan and Afghanistan have a common enemy and directed the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) to restart the work on Thorkham-Jalalabad Carriageway within a week – a project on which work had been stopped a long time ago.
It is relevant to note that two commanders of the outlawed Baloch insurgent groups – Balochistan Liberation Front and Tanzeem-e-Lashkar-e-Balochistan – and 57 fighters laid down their arms during the weekend. It is logical to assume that their decision may reflect a dramatic change in how the province is being governed post-2013 with a Baloch nationalist, Dr Abdul Malik, as the Chief Minister accompanied by a change in the establishment’s strategy in the province. This is a positive development and a first step in the right direction; however, one hopes that efforts to engage with the exiled Baloch leaders continue with the objective of bringing all into mainstream politics for that way lies prosperity of the country as well as the province.
Significantly, military sources in private conversations acknowledge that the militant networks have been considerably degraded but maintain that a bigger threat is coming from urban-based groups linked to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The Karachi operation is continuing with the largest number of arrests of those affiliated with the TTP notwithstanding the claims made by some political parties. The rangers were given the power to clean Karachi, under the administrative control of the Sindh government, however the frequent visits of the Prime Minister and General Raheel Sharif to Karachi and their briefing by rangers on occasions without any representation from Sindh government is being seen as an operation fully supported by the centre and the establishment – the two ingredients that have proved effective in combating terrorism in this country. Be that as it may, more work needs to be done especially in south of Punjab irrespective of political considerations as well as in other urban centres where TTP encroachments are patently evident.
The text appeared in the Editorial of Business Recorder Today.