Terrorism, violence continue to drop in Pakistan

By Javed Mahmood

Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif (beret) August 23 in Kurram Agency shakes hands with a soldier participating in counter-terrorism operations in the agency. Troops nationwide are pursuing militants. [Courtesy of ISPR]

Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif (beret) August 23 in Kurram Agency shakes hands with a soldier participating in counter-terrorism operations in the agency. Troops nationwide are pursuing militants. [Courtesy of ISPR]

ISLAMABAD -- Violence related to terrorism and militancy in Pakistan has continued to drop during the second quarter of 2016, with the biggest change observed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

"Nearly a 40% reduction in violence was observed throughout the country during the 2nd quarter of 2016 [compared to the first quarter]," the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) said in its latest security report. "The highest reduction in violence was noted in FATA as the military operation reached its logical conclusion."

FATA recorded an almost 75% reduction in terror-related fatalities -- from 244 between January and March to 62 between April and June. Punjab Province witnessed a 52% reduction from 163 in Q1 (the first quarter) to 78 in Q2.

"Among the victims of violence in the Punjab, the highest percentage was of militants and criminals (80%)," the report said. "Based on these figures, the security situation in the province appears to be highly satisfactory and well within the control of security agencies."

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) observed a 27% reduction in violence with 92 fatalities in Q2 compared to 126 in Q1.

Compared to the rest of Pakistan, Sindh and Balochistan provinces recorded marginal reductions in terror-related fatalities -- about 9% and 8%, respectively.

Fatalities resulting from terrorism fell 38.5% during the second quarter, from 872 to 536. The dead included 335 militants, 96 criminals and 44 insurgents. CRSS did not clarify the difference between militants and insurgents.

One high-profile militant who died in May was the Afghan Taliban's then-supreme commander, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor. He was killed in Balochistan.

Defeating militants operationally, ideologically

While Operation Zarb-e-Azb has crushed the militants operationally, more needs to be done to combat militant ideology, the CRSS report concluded.

"Pakistan has gotten increasingly proficient at physical destruction of militant hideouts, weapon caches and arresting/killing the criminal element, but the ideology that fuels it continues to create divides," the report said.

"Unless this ideology is targeted through a focused approach and propelled by political will, this temporary relief may be short-lived."

"Intelligence-based operations and the collective efforts of security agencies discouraged militancy in Pakistan and ended no-go areas," CRSS Executive Director Imtiaz Gul told Pakistan Forward.

These so-called "no-go areas" were safe havens for militants, he said, adding that security forces have eliminated these strongholds, shattering terrorists' ability to inflict casualties.

"The government and the security organisations must continue their struggle to end terrorism, militancy and extremism from society," he said.

Credit for initiatives' success

Two vigorous initiatives by the government have crippled terrorism, analysts say.

Pakistan should continue to enforce the National Action Plan (NAP) to crack down on militants and eliminate the monster of terrorism, he added. NAP is a counter-terrorism plan that the government enacted in December 2014.

"The two-year-long military Operation Zarb-e-Azb has played an important role in reducing terrorism to its lowest level," Peshawar-based security analyst Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah told Pakistan Forward.

Zarb-e-Azb, an army offensive in North Waziristan that began in June 2014, has eliminated militants' infrastructure, networks and training centres, and troops have seized massive quantities of weapons and explosives from arrested or killed combatants, he said.

Permanently defeating terrorism

However, Shah and others see the need for long-lasting reforms to make the success permanent.

"The government must complete the implementation of reforms in FATA and make it part of [KP] to ensure a long-lasting peace there," Shah advised.

Zar Ali Musazai, chairman of the Peshawar-based Tribal NGOs Consortium, had other ideas for consolidating the hard-won progress against terrorism.

"True, the security situation has improved in FATA and adjoining areas, but still armed clashes between security personnel and militants take place in FATA, while cross-border terrorism continues," Musazai told Pakistan Forward.

Musazai had various prescriptions for continuing to pressure militants: clearing FATA and adjoining areas of militants, defeating cross-border terrorism, and helping internally displaced persons from FATA go home and resume their normal lives.

Authorities should fast-track efforts to rebuild damaged infrastructure in FATA, he said.

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