ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's reliance on intelligence-based operations (IBOs) in 2016 helped contained militancy, inflicting a serious blow to militants, observers said.
"A total of 25,000 IBOs were carried out in various parts of the country against militants [in 2016], and the highest number of IBOs was conducted in Punjab Province," said Abdullah Khan, managing director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS).
Security forces carried out more than 11,000 IBOs in Punjab alone, he told Pakistan Forward.
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence and the Punjab Police Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) carried out the operations, leading to the arrest of thousands of militants and improving the security situation in the province, he said.
"The IBOs are being conducted in areas where the army's operation is not going on," he said, referring to Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which the army began waging in June 2014.
Punjab Province reported a 70% decline in terrorist attacks and 20% decline in targeted killings in 2016 compared to the previous year, Khan said.
Overall security improved
"The [IBOs] have shown good results ... and this strategy should be paced up to uproot militancy," said Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in Islamabad.
For security forces, the IBOs are a good option for nabbing militants without relying on excessive force, he told Pakistan Forward, adding that the IBOs reflect Pakistan's pro-active approach to maintain peace.
"All over the world, IBOs are considered the best strategy to apprehend the elements involved in violence and terrorism," he said.
"It is true that more than 11,000 IBOs have been carried out in Punjab, and as a result, terrorism-related incidents dropped by 70% in Punjab in 2016 in comparison with 2015," Punjab Police spokesman Nayab Haider told Pakistan Forward from Lahore.
"The overall security situation in Punjab Province is far better in 2016 than in 2015," he said.
Cases of kidnapping for ransom decreased by 65%, while armed robberies fell by 60%, he said.
Between January and November last year, police arrested 33,968 outlaws and recovered illegal weapons from their possession, according to the Punjab Police performance report.
During this period, police arrested 107,378 proclaimed offenders (wanted fugitives) and absconders. In 263 encounters between law enforcement and criminal elements, 24 police officers and 312 outlaws were killed.
Amnesty for ex-militants
While these figures are encouraging, the government must take further steps to eliminate militancy, said Khan, managing director of the PICSS.
"Force [in military and other security agency operations] is not enough to eliminate the extremism and militancy," he said. "The government will have to take bold steps like the announcement of general amnesty and welfare packages for the militants who are willing to give up militancy."
In Balochistan, the provincial government gave amnesty to hundreds of insurgents who surrendered before security forces in the past few years, and this strategy should also be extended to other provinces, he said.
If leaders in Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas adopt the same policy, banned terror outfits would face further setbacks as thousands of their members could renounce violence and become peaceful citizens, he said.