Zarb-e-Azb saps terrorists' ability to recruit suicide bombers

By Adeel Saeed

Pakistani troops recently patrolling outside the cordoned area in North Waziristan Agency of FATA as part of an exercise during military Operation Zarb-e-Azb. [Courtesy of ISPR]

Pakistani troops recently patrolling outside the cordoned area in North Waziristan Agency of FATA as part of an exercise during military Operation Zarb-e-Azb. [Courtesy of ISPR]

PESHAWAR -- The on-going military operation in Pakistan's tribal belt and intelligence based combing operations in the rest of the country have severely impacted terrorist groups' ability to recruit for its suicide squad, observers say.

Military Operation Zarb-e-Azb has strongly impacted the ability of militants to attract of new recruits for suicide bombing in Pakistan, according to the Pakistan Biannual Security Report.

The report, compiled by the FATA Research Centre (FRC), the first think-tank specifically focused on Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), reviews security trends for the first half of 2016.

It is prepared through monitoring militant and counter-militant activities, reviews recent trends of conflict in Pakistan such as the number and type of militant attacks, tactics and strategies used by the militants, and the resultant casualties.

Between January and June, the report says, security forces carried out 255 counter-militancy operations, resulting in the arrests of 1,629 militants belonging to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), al-Qaeda, the Khorasan branch of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), TTP offshoot Jamatul Ahrar and various other militant outfits.

The operations also killed 660 militants and injured 156 others.

Suicide squads pinched, militants change tactics

"The militant's tactics have also undergone a tremendous shift since the launch of multiple and simultaneous military operations across Pakistan," the report said.

For instance, militant groups' inability to attract new recruits has mainly impacted their suicide squads and, subsequently, the number of suicide bombings has gone down significantly, it said.

Militants are relying more heavily on target killings and attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), according to the research.

There were 79 target killings recorded across the country, accounting for 34% of the total militancy related incidents during the first half of 2016, and 74 IED attacks, or 32% of the total incidents. There were 44 militant ambushes on security forces (19% of the total incidents), 13 cross border attacks (6%) and 12 abductions (5%).

In contrast, only ten suicide attacks (4% of total incidents) were reported between January and June 2016, the report said.

"The high percentage of IED attacks manifests [the] gradual degeneration of militant networks and their declining operational capacity," the report said.

Pakistan's intensive counter-militancy operations in FATA and intelligence based operations in Balochistan, Karachi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab "have robbed militants of operational space in Pakistan", the FRC report said.

"Militant groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Mahsud Taliban, Lashkar-e-Islam, Jamatul Ahrar, al-Qaeda, Turkistan Islamic Party and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), previously active in the country, shifted to safe havens in Khost, Paktika, Paktiya and Nangarhar provinces of Afghanistan," according to FRC sources.

Tackling root causes of violent extremism

Counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan have been highly effective in breaking the capacity of terrorists to operate and inflict damage on the people, said Mossarat Qadeem, a peace activist recently nominated for the N-Peace Awards for her struggle against violent extremism in Pakistan.

"The tough stance taken by the military establishment after the gruesome armed attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, has shown very positive results and peace has been restored to a large extent in the country," she told Pakistan Forward.

Nonetheless, she said, authorities should also take measures to identify the root causes of radicalisation in Pakistan.

"[We must] protect the new generation from the menace by carrying out developmental activities, spreading education and employment," she said.

"Ensuring better governance, access to justice, regulating madrassas, curbing hate speech, developing a strong counter-rhetoric and blocking terrorist financing are also essential parts of fight against terrorism with the help of which we can get rid of the peril of extremism,” Mossarat said.

"Operation Zarb-e-Azb has created a space for peace restoration by breaking the backbone of militants, making them unable to gather and strike,” said Malik Muhammad Ashraf, a defense analyst and newspaper columnist.

"The terrorists are on the run and their ability to cause huge damage through bomb blasts and suicide attacks is dismantled to a large extent," he told Pakistan Forward.

Pakistani security forces have almost completed the first phase of the war against terrorism by weakening terrorists and destroying their safe havens, he said.

"However, the second phase is to fight against the ideology behind the radicalisation of our society and that will take time, maybe decades," he said.

Community support for countering militancy

After the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, it is now necessary for citizens to participate in fight against terrorism by pinpointing the presence of militants or extremist elements within their communities, he said.

"Complete annihilation of militancy can only be achieved through the participation of community members and political development in the country," he said.

The outcome of the onslaught of security forces against terrorists can be gauged from the fact that incidents of terrorism have declined significantly, said retired security secretary for FATA Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah.

"Our forces have cleared the whole tribal region of Pakistan where once militants roamed freely and prepared plots for fulfillment of their nefarious designs," he told Pakistan Forward.

"The fear of bomb blasts, which once gripped the whole country especially KP and FATA, is now no more and people are returning to normalcy as the capability of terrorists to operate is dismantled," said Aqeel Yousafzai, a senior journalist from Peshawar who focuses on security issues.

Due to tough measures taken by security forces, the terrorists' networks have been broken and their hideouts have been destroyed, he told Pakistan Forward.

The second phase of the war against terror should focus on changing the mindset of people by highlighting the perils of extremism and militancy, he said.

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The biggest issue is corruption, if we overcome that we will end terrorism as well.