Sultan M Hali
PAKISTAN was embroiled in terror attacks since 2007 where miscreants of the ilk of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) took a heavy toll of human lives. Unfortunately, following the successful operations against the TTP in South Waziristan, follow up action was not carried out and the miscreants entrenched themselves in North Waziristan. The treacherous topography and landscape of North Waziristan afforded TTP the opportunity to establish safe havens complete with training grounds, arsenals for their weapons and even set up factories for manufacturing suicide jackets and carry out indoctrination and brainwashing of their recruits for conducting suicide attacks.
For some inescapable reason, North Waziristan was not subjected to anti terror operations, giving the TTP a free hand to launch terror assaults on targets of their choice with impunity. When the new government of PML (N) came into power in June 2013, it indulged in negotiations with terror leaders but it soon became apparent that the harbingers of doom and gloom were only biding for time to regroup and rearm themselves and while the peace negotiations were on, they successfully attacked Karachi airport and caused major losses. In retaliation, military operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched with full fury, involving both air and ground attacks. The use of air surveillance platforms enabled the armed forces to determine the exact locations of the terrorists, their hideouts, arms arsenals and training compounds, targeting them with pinpoint accuracy, avoiding collateral damage. Resultantly, Pakistan successfully flushed out the TTP led terrorism from its soil. Some terror leaders perished in the attacks while others fled to Afghanistan. Although their backs were broken, yet the TTP managed to launch desperate attacks on Army Public School Peshawar and the University of Charsadda, which did inflict a huge loss of innocent lives but renewed the resolve of the nation to stand up to the terrorists.
Mop up operations and careful sweeping of the possible safe havens of the TTP ultimately broke the back of the terrorists and Operation Zarb-i-Azb was declared a success. Meanwhile IS emerged as a new phenomenon in Iraq and Syria and its initial successes attracted terrorist groups to its fold. IS leadership declared Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India to become the state of Khorasan envisaged to be ruled by IS in the region. Since the original Arab founders of IS were engaged in the raging battlegrounds of Iraq and Syria, they were seeking local terror leaders to pick up their franchise in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A fractured and demoralized TTP found some of its components ready to sell its soul to IS only for survival thus a few splinter groups of TTP swore allegiance to the IS. However, apart from some sporadic attacks, where the IS claimed responsibility, it could not find a foothold in Pakistan thus it was constrained to concentrate in Afghanistan. Even in Afghanistan, IS faced stiff resistance from the Taliban, who were not willing to give up their hold without a fierce fight. There have been bloody battles for supremacy where there have been heavy casualties but the Afghan Taliban has held its ground. Elements of TTP have been sitting on the fence, ready to throw their lot with the victors but to their dismay, the IS has centered itself in Afghanistan’s Northern Region, bordering with Pakistan, where too they have suffered reverses.
The advent of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brought in a double advantage and contributed to peace in the erstwhile strife torn region. Firstly, it has ushered in economic progress and development, secondly it has indicated to the miscreants that they will miss out if they do not climb the bandwagon of prosperity hence they are heeding the clarion call of the government to lay down their arms and join the march towards progress. Enemies of Pakistan would still like to continue with their heinous plot to destabilize Pakistan but their nefarious conspiracies will be thwarted by the security plan to safeguard CPEC which has been put in place by govt.
It is heartening that the international community has begun to accept the Afghan Taliban as a political reality especially in its bid to take the IS on and act as a bulwark against it. Unfortunately, the Afghan National Unity Government and its Indian sympathizers fail to see the advantage of giving space to the Taliban in its mission of seeking peace in Afghanistan because they fear that they may be displaced from their seat in the government by the Taliban. Pakistan is a major stakeholder in the peace process in Afghanistan, since the ripple effect of a destabilized Afghanistan causes tremors in Pakistan, whose major development projects like CASA 1000 and TAPI are hostage to peace in Afghanistan. The need of the hour is for Pakistan and Afghanistan to improve coordination and cooperation in their bid to counter terrorism and extremism. The common enemy of both neighbours is terrorism, which is now visible in the shape of IS. Pooling their intelligence resources can achieve the desired effect of containing the IS so that it fails to establish its roots even in Afghanistan. Neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan can rise to their true potential as long as terrorism rules the roost.
Pakistani society as a whole has rejected extremism and terrorism and favors moderation. Afghanistan needs to learn from Pakistan’s experience on how to undermine extremist mindset without blaming others. The National Directorate of Security has to shed its myopic vision of blaming Pakistan for all its woes while Unity Govt of Afghanistan should put an end to find Pakistan as a scapegoat for its bad governance, corruption and lack of control. Furthermore, successes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb are being cemented through a follow up operation Rad–ul-Fassad, which has been undertaken to ensure that those elements of the TTP, who found refuge in populated areas, will be weeded out and eliminated. Operation Rad-ul-Fassad is also aimed at wiping out remnants of IS who may have gone underground or established sleeper cells in Pakistan’s urban centres, waiting to strike at targets of opportunity.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.