Operation Zarb-e-Azb, National Action Plan curtail terrorism

By Javed Mahmood

Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif (left) on September 24 inaugurated new state-of-the-art facilities of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, located near Kharian, Punjab Province. [Courtesy of ISPR]

Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif (left) on September 24 inaugurated new state-of-the-art facilities of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, located near Kharian, Punjab Province. [Courtesy of ISPR]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's efforts to eliminate terrorism are yielding positive results and can be taken as an example for the global fight against terrorism, observers say.

These efforts notably include the Pakistan military Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the National Action Plan (NAP), which are focused on countering various militant groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al-Qaeda and the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).

As a result of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and NAP, launched in June 2014 and January 2015 respectively, Pakistan has been able to reduce terrorist activity by 70%, according to a report published last September.

Furthermore, after the launch of these initiatives, terrorists in Pakistan "have not been able to mount any successful operations in the past one year", the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) said in a September 29 report titled "Global Coalition to Counter ISIL: How can Pakistan Contribute".

"This shows that Pakistan’s efforts are yielding positive outcomes and are geared in the right direction," the report said.

Redoubling efforts to crush terrorism

The ISSI report asserts that lessons gleaned from Pakistan's success can help the global coalition -- comprised of 67 partners including nation-states, transnational and non-governmental organisations -- in its fight against ISIL.

"So far, Pakistan is not a member of the global coalition to counter ISIL, and whatever contribution it is making comes under the unilateral umbrella of National Action Plan and military Operation Zarb-e-Azb against terrorists in the country," the report said.

As a result of the coalition's military engagement, "ISIL has lost 50% of its territory in Iraq and 20% in Syria, and it continues to shrink with time and increased efforts of the coalition", the report said.

"The kinetic military effort has provided the basis for non-kinetic engagement, destroying terror safe heavens and infrastructure thereby impeding [ISIL's] expansionist ability to strike, restrained their financial flows and busted their economy which depended on smuggling of oil and other resources," it said.

This combination of military and policy-based approaches is essential to eliminating terrorism, the ISSI report said, and this is where Pakistan's Operation Zarb-e-Azb and NAP have shown the most success.

"Pakistan’s military operation ensured the kinetic engagement with an effective outcome," the report said. "Similarly NAP ensures a domestic framework of counter-terrorism with an emphasis on non-kinetic engagement which includes madrassah reforms, legal reforms, challenging extremist narratives and socio-judicial reform to address public grievances."

On the path to victory

Recognising the achievements of these two approaches, security analysts say Pakistani authorities must capitalise on the gains and accelerate both military and civil engagement.

"Operation Zarb-e-Azb has achieved a military victory, denied space to militants to operate, killed many and consequently reduced the threat of militancy considerably," said Pakistani security analyst Lt. Gen. (ret.) Javed Ashraf Qazi.

He urged the continuation of the operation until the terrorist groups are completely eliminated.

"You can militarily defeat the enemy but the fight can go on until the militants' organisation is smashed, the leaders eliminated and the recruit supply lines are choked," he told Pakistan Forward.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb has not yet reached its conclusion because the militants' leaders have escaped to Afghanistan, where they are reorganising and hoping to return to their training areas and launching pads as soon as the Army leaves, he said.

Qazi said the NAP is intended to help sustain the success of military operation. Nonetheless, more needs to be done in this regard, he said, adding that many seminaries remain untouched by the law, enabling militants to use them as recruitment centres without fear.

"Seminaries still have foreign students and receive foreign funding, which should be discouraged," he said.

Building on Operation Zarb-e-Azb

Apart from Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Qazi said, police and intelligence agencies have been carrying out operations in major cities.

The best results have been witnessed in Karachi where the Rangers were deployed to aid the police, he said.

In Balochistan, Levies are in charge of security as 90% of the province has been declared tribal areas, he said. This implies that only the Frontier Corps is fighting the militants and insurgents there since the military has not been deployed, he said.

To sustain the success of Zarb-e-Azb, he continued, some permanent brigade-size cantonments should be established, troops from the western border should be reverted to the East, borders should be secured and the strength of the Frontier Corps should be increased to effectively monitor the border with Afghanistan.

In addition, the provincial governments should crack down on non-compliant seminaries, shutter them if they do not obey the reforms, he said.

Meanwhile, arrested militants should be handed over to the military courts for speedy trials and appropriate punishments with the aim of further minimising militancy, he said.

Enforcing NAP to the fullest extent of the law

Karachi-based security analyst Col. (ret.) Mukhtar Ahmed Butt said Operation Zarb-e-Azb and NAP have ended the Taliban's era of fear.

"Bomb blasts, suicide attacks and killing of civilians and security officials have dropped sharply which indicates the success of Zarb-e-Azb," he told Pakistan Forward.

"The fear of Taliban has ended, people are going freely everywhere because of improvement in law and order in the wake of the security operations," he said.

Intelligence-based operations can continue to further eliminate militancy from Pakistan, he said.

"Government and security organisations must implement the NAP in its true spirit which requires action against influential financiers, facilitators and abettors of the militants,” Karachi-based security analyst and Daily Pakistan Resident Editor Mubasher Mir told Pakistan Forward.

"Action should also be taken against the seminaries and banned militant outfits that are operating with new names so that the success of Zarb-e-Azb and targeted operations is kept intact," he said.

"Across the board, country-wide targeted operations should be intensified to discourage militancy and to further improve security," he said.

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