PESHAWAR -- Pakistanis have expressed hope that the early successes of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad are a signal that the campaign will beat back a recent wave of terrorism and establish peace.
Pakistan launched the operation February 22 to eliminate the "latent threat of terrorism, consolidating gains of operations made thus far and further ensuring security of the borders", according to an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement.
The announcement of Radd-ul-Fasaad came after a meeting of Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the corps commanders of Punjab, the director general of Pakistan Rangers Punjab, and the heads of intelligence agencies in Lahore.
A response to uptick in violence
The operation comes in the wake of a fresh wave of terrorist attacks across the country in recent weeks, including a suicide attack in Lahore February 13, suicide attacks in Peshawar and Mohmand Agency February 15, and an "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) attack on a Sufi shrine in Sehwan, Sindh Province, among others.
Meanwhile February 21, police foiled a mass-casualty terrorist attack when they fatally shot two would-be suicide bombers before they could enter the courthouse in Tangi Tehsil, Charsadda District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
The swift action of the police, the subsequent arrest of the suspected masterminds of the Tangi Tehsil attack the following day, and the launch of the latest counter-terrorism operation are reassuring anxious Pakistanis.
The new operation will help consolidate the gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb (which the army launched in June 2014) and stabilise the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, military and security analysts say.
"This operation is vital for the security of the region, both for Pakistan and Afghanistan, as the militants hiding along the Pakistani-Afghan border are threatening the lives of innocent Pakistanis and are equally harmful to Afghanistan," Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, former security secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told Pakistan Forward.
He expressed confidence that the operation would achieve its target and that its impact would be felt across Pakistan and in Afghanistan, given the role of intelligence sharing with Afghanistan.
"Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad will be a severe blow to [the terrorists], being a co-ordinated strike by all forces," he said.
In addition, strict border management will help track down and eliminate Jamatul Ahrar and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants and foreign fighters who menace regional peace, he said.
University of Peshawar student Hamza Khan agreed on the need to combat militants in the border zone, which he described as "porous".
Taking the fight to Punjab
Other militants who previously found sanctuary in Punjab, Pakistan's largest and richest province, no longer can rest assured of relative immunity there.
The federal government February 22 approved a request from the Punjab provincial government to deploy the para-military Rangers for 60 days in the province.
"The Rangers operation in Punjab is key to hit the nurseries of the militants, especially in the Dera Ghazi Khan mountains, where the miscreants are posing a serious threat," said Awami National Party spokesman Zahid Khan, adding that such an operation has been needed for a long time.
"This Rangers operation in Punjab will be a key front in winning the war on terror," he told Pakistan Forward.
The air force, navy, Civil Armed Forces and other security and law enforcement agencies will "actively participate" in and "intimately support the efforts to eliminate the menace of terrorism from the country", ISPR said.
"The effort entails [...] counter-terrorism operations by Rangers in Punjab, continuation of on-going operations across the country and focus on more effective border security management," said the statement.
"Pursuance of the National Action Plan (NAP) will be the hallmark of this operation," added ISPR.
The federal government launched the counter-insurgency NAP shortly after the terrorist massacre at Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014.
Radd-ul-Fasaad has seen immediate results, according to the ISPR.
The Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies conducted a joint targeted operation February 22 against TTP and Jamatul Ahrar in Balochistan, seizing 23 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) intended for law enforcement vehicles and buses for Loralai University students, the ISPR said.
"Punjab Rangers conducted over 200 search operations in various areas of Punjab including Karor, Layyah and Rawalpindi," a February 25 ISPR statement said, adding that Rangers searched suspicious houses, shops and seminaries.
"Four terrorists [were] killed in an exchange of fire while over 600 suspects including a few Afghans [were] apprehended," the statement said. The arrested suspects included Jamatul Ahrar "facilitators", and security forces recovered extremist materials and weapons.
During a clean-up operation in Shirrani village, Datta Khel, North Waziristan, Pakistani troops recovered a "huge cache of arms and ammunition which had been left behind by terrorists", a February 26 ISPR statement said.
Decisive and multi-faceted
The operation, according to some, has the power to hit militants in various ways.
Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad will "help eliminate terrorists' sleeper cells as well as wipe out their sympathisers", Prof. A. Z. Hilali, chairman of the University of Peshawar political science department, told Pakistan Forward.
Targeted operations will damage the financial underpinnings of terrorist operations, he added.
"Pursuit of [NAP] and its practical implementation are a prerequisite for integral and lasting peace in Pakistan," Prof. Syed Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi, head of the Cell for FATA Studies at the University of Peshawar, told Pakistan Forward.
Radd-ul-Fasaad will be the "deciding strike" against terrorists, protecting ordinary citizens, he said.
The latest operation is different from other operations that took place in tribal areas and some parts of Sindh Province, said Soherwordi, because this one is aimed at urban areas, as well as at the already cleared areas of FATA and the remaining parts of the Pakistani-Afghan border not free of militants.
"It will be more effective and successful as it won't allow the miscreants any chance to run away," said Soherwordi.
Militants faced by a withering nationwide offensive "won't be able to run", agreed Neelum Rahim, a community-based social worker in Swat for Shirkat Gah Women's Resource Centre, an NGO based in Lahore.