Security

Six years on, analysts credit Operation Zarb-e-Azb with drop in terrorism

By Zia Ur Rehman

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A Pakistani army soldier stands guard near a border terminal in Ghulam Khan, North Waziristan, on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, on January 27, 2019. [Farooq Naeem/AFP]

ISLAMABAD -- Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a military operation launched six years ago against militant groups operating in Pakistan's tribal areas, has played a significant role in reducing terrorism in Pakistan, say security officials and analysts.

With the support of the civilian government, political parties and civil society groups, the Pakistani military launched the full-scale offensive with the goal of wiping out the hideouts of local and transnational militant groups in North Waziristan.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which translates roughly to "sharp strike", began in June 2014 in the wake of a deadly attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 28 people.

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Paramilitary Rangers man a checkpoint on July 2 in Karachi. [Zia Ur Rehman]

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A file photo in July 2014 shows a rally by Karachi residents and political groups to show support for Operation Zarb-e-Azb. [Zia Ur Rehman]

Some 30,000 troops, backed by the air force, took part in the operation.

"Operation Zarb-e-Azb in its first two years achieved its goals of destroying the hideouts and shattering the networks of al-Qaeda and its associated groups, both foreign and local, particularly the IMU, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), various factions of the TTP and the Haqqani Network," a senior intelligence officer who took part in the operation said on the condition of anonymity.

Earlier operations, including Operation Rah-e-Haq (2007), Operation Sher Dil (August 2008), Operation Black Thunderstorm (April 2009), Operation Rah-e-Rast (May 2009), Operation Rah-e-Nijat (June 2009) and Operation Brekhna (November 2009), were not fully successful despite their achievements, he said.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb helped law enforcement agencies that were busy cracking down on terror outfits across the country, said Raja Umar Khatab, a counter-terrorism officer in Karachi.

"TTP militants, using their hideouts in North Waziristan, were running their networks across the country, but the operation... shattered their command-and-control," Khatab said.

Six years later, "the significant decrease in the terrorism is mainly linked to the success of the operation," he said.

After two and half years, Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, a targeted intelligence-based operation, was launched in February 2017 to consolidate the gains achieved in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think-tank.

Pakistan saw a decline in the number of terror attacks and fatalities after the start of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, he said.

Drop in terrorism

A total of 1,206 terrorist attacks were carried out by militants and violent sectarian groups in Pakistan in 2014. At least 1,723 people lost their lives while another 3,143 were wounded, according to an annual security report by PIPS.

Attacks dropped to 441 in 2016, killing 908 and wounding 1,627, the report said.

In 2019, terrorist attacks across the country further decreased to 229, with 357 deaths and 729 injuries.

Because of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, many militants were either arrested or killed. However, a number of insurgents, particularly their leaders, fled to the neighbouring Afghan provinces of Khost and Kunar, according to the report.

For residents of North Waziristan, this progress meant they no longer faced constant threats from militants.

In the past, militants of terror outfits used a phone at the TTP's offices in the Miranshah bazaar in North Waziristan to threaten traders, affluent individuals and their families if they failed to pay extortion money.

"In some cases, the group even summoned them to appear in their 'court' in Miranshah," said Akmal Khan, a Karachi-based transporter who paid a Rs. 1 million ($6,000) ransom after TTP militants kidnapped his five-year-old son in 2012.

"When the military started Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan in June 2014 against the Taliban militants, traders breathed a sigh of relief," Khan said.

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