ISLAMABAD -- In addition to on-going military operations, the next phase in Pakistan's counter-terrorism strategy is to dismantle the ties between terrorism financiers in urban centres and the militants they support in remote areas of the country, Pakistani authorities say.
Intelligence-based operations focusing on terrorism abettors and financiers started last year and gained momentum after the shift in command of the Pakistan Army in November.
The new army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, stressed this renewed focus during his visit to Corps Headquarters Peshawar December 12.
The nexus between terrorists in remote areas and their facilitators in urban centres will be severed "whatever the amount of effort and time", he said.
Building on military gains
Since the launch of military Operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014, a remarkable decrease has occurred in organised terrorist activities in North Waziristan along the Afghan border, studies show.
The tribal area, which was previously considered a hot-bed of various militant organisations, including Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Haqqani Network, is now under the complete control of Pakistani forces.
Nobody can doubt the success of Zarb-e-Azb in defeating militants, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Talat Masood of Islamabad, a security analyst, said.
"Now the focus is on the nexus between facilitators and terrorists," he told Pakistan Forward, adding, "We have to wait for the final result."
Specific information on the arrests of terror facilitators remains confidential as a matter of policy. Intelligence agencies primarily conduct such operations.
Security forces arrested more than 4,000 suspects -- including handlers, supporters and financiers of terrorists -- in at least 1,104 intelligence-based operations in 2016, according to the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS).
In addition, security forces killed 859 terrorists, the Islamabad-based think tank reported.
"The nexus between the terrorists and facilitators has already been targeted, and significant progress is being made as a number of such arrangements were broken up," PICSS Managing Director Abdullah Khan told Pakistan Forward, noting the arrest last April of Abdul Rehman Sindhi.
Sindhi "provided facilitation and financial services to al-Qaeda" and had ties to other terrorist groups in Pakistan, according to the UN Security Council's Sanctions List.
Intensifying intelligence-based operations
The reason for intensifying intelligence-based operations against terrorist facilitators after defeating militancy in the tribal areas is obvious, Khan said.
Security operations alone are not enough to achieve complete peace and tranquility, he said.
"The intelligence-based operations against the nexus between the terrorists and facilitators have, no doubt, proved fruitful and have weakened networks," Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), told Pakistan Forward.
In fact, violence-related fatalities in Pakistan decreased by 44% in 2016 (compared to the year before) and by 66% since 2014, CRSS said in its annual report released January 4.
Some facilitators are encouraging and helping militants to stay with their groups and are guiding them to target key sites in Pakistan, while in other cases facilitators provide financial and logistical support, Gul said, citing various studies of the problem.