ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan is moving rapidly towards peace, a change citizens say they can feel in their daily lives.
“Of course we are more confident today," Shumaila, 38, told Pakistan Forward while shopping in a crowded market in Rawalpindi. "Now, I go out of my home without fear."
Previously, Shumaila said, she would feel overcome with fear of a sudden terrorist attack when she went to a market or other public place.
Security analysts and officials credit this rapid turnaround, from when terrorist attacks and suicide bombings were commonplace a few years ago, to the advent of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014.
Along with Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which targets militancy and terrorism in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and other parts of north-western Pakistan, a number of other steps have advanced peace, authorities say.
"Much progress in connection to counter-terrorism has been made," National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) Chairman Ehsan Ghani told Pakistan Forward.
"Soon you will notice more measures for establishing peace in the country," he said. "Complete peace is our ultimate goal."
Routing out terrorists
The Pakistani army has defeated militants in North Waziristan and other parts of FATA along the Afghan border and intelligence-based operations have been launched in major cities throughout the country, officials and analysts say.
As a result, internally displaced persons are returning to the tribal areas.
Major cities like Peshawar and Lahore are witnessing rapid development, although officials say more work is needed for complete peace in the country.
"I have witnessed the return of normality in [Peshawar] and other parts of Pakistan, as I frequently visit Karachi, Lahore and other cities for business," Akram, a cloth and clothing trader in Peshawar, told Pakistan Forward after returning from Lahore.
Intelligence-based operations and Operation Zarb-e-Azb have made great progress, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) revealed to Pakistan Forward, adding that a combing operation is under way to rout out terrorists and their facilitators.
"The concept of a combing operation is new for many in Pakistan," Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif said recently.
More than 1.2m combing and 2m search-and-stop operations have taken place across Pakistan since intensive counter-terrorism operations begin in 2014, and as a result, authorities made 1.4m arrests, according to Ghani of NACTA.
"Active members of 61 banned outfits were rounded up," he told Pakistan Forward.
Opposition groups praise progress
The improved security situation has drawn praise from a number of surprising sources.
Progress toward peace is clear, Qamar Zaman Kaira, a leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, said.
"Peace is visible," he told Pakistan Forward. "We are not facing insecurity as we faced earlier."
"In FATA ... targeted operations had positive effects on peace in the country,” he said. "Even the situation in Karachi has improved."
"No doubt the difference is clear; magnificent progress has been made," Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan leader Liaqat Baloch told Pakistan Forward. "Nonetheless, more needs to be done."
Regional approach to peace
Main cities such as Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi and other areas have witnessed a return of normal life, but a few threats still exist, analysts say.
"The security agencies are creeping toward overcoming the hurdles, especially in Sindh, and you see that peace was established to a large extent in Pakistan," said Lt. Gen. (ret.) Amjad Shoaib, a security analyst in Islamabad.
"Such successes become possible with great sacrifices," he told Pakistan Forward.
If one looks at Karachi, FATA or Waziristan, great progress has occurred, said Lt. Gen. (ret.) Talat Masood, another Islamabad security analyst.
"But for ultimate success, ending the civil war in Afghanistan is important, and here lies the importance of the regional approach towards peace and development," he told Pakistan Forward.