Zarb-e-Azb enjoys public support, achieves success

By Imdad Hussain

Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif May 2 in Rawalpindi chairs a meeting of the army's Corps Commanders. [Courtesy of ISPR]

Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif May 2 in Rawalpindi chairs a meeting of the army's Corps Commanders. [Courtesy of ISPR]

ISLAMABAD -- Terrorists' fortunes continue to decline in Pakistan, two years after the army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan.

Nonstop destruction of terrorist bases and sanctuaries in that tribal agency has driven down the incidence of terrorism nationwide, authorities say.

After troops in April finished counter-terrorism operations in Shawal, North Waziristan, they are taking the fight to "abettors and sleeper cells nationwide", officials say.

"The combing operation ... is going on successfully with the help of locals in various parts of Pakistan," army spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa told Central Asia Online.

After troops and police destroyed the terrorists' ability to raise funds and move freely nationwide, the combing operation is creating more problems for terrorists, Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS).

The frequency of terrorist attacks is plunging, authorities say. In the first quarter of 2015 they recorded 12 terrorist attacks. This year's first quarter saw eight attacks.

Zarb-e-Azb against terrorists

Pakistani forces launched Zarb-e-Azb after a deadly terrorist attack on Karachi International Airport in June 2014.

The troops, striking in the air and on the ground, destroyed hundreds of hide-outs, blew up countless ammunition depots and killed or captured thousands of militants.

Security forces have killed more than 4,000 terrorists since launching the operation, the government says. The troops paid a high price too, with 488 members of the army and other forces dying in the first year and a half after the start of Zarb-e-Azb, according to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

Successful operations bring peace, stability

The success of Zarb-e-Azb is perceptible in the resumption of public celebrations nationwide, authorities say.

The leading beneficiary is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), once the epicentre of terrorism, Gul said.

The increased public safety nationwide is highly welcome, but it will take a long time to establish a durable peace, Ashraf Ali, a former president of the Islamabad-based FATA Research Centre, told Central Asia Online.

In FATA, 239 people were killed in terrorist violence in the first quarter of 2016, according to the CRSS. In the first quarter of 2015, the total was 619.

Other areas like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Sindh and Balochistan are reporting improvements, though some high-impact terrorist incidents still occur.

For example, Sindh, which includes Karachi, where terrorists and crime gangs have been fighting among themselves for years, had 158 deaths from terrorist violence in the first quarter of 2016, officials say. In the first quarter of 2015, the total was 368.

More needs to be done, observers say

For complete success, Pakistan and Afghanistan will have to do more, Peshawar-based military analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai told Central Asia Online.

"The majority of militants escaped into Afghanistan," he said.

Authorities are preparing to combat the spill-over of desperate terrorists into Punjab Province after they find FATA inhospitable. Tragedy struck in Lahore in March, when a suicide bomber killed 72 people during an Easter celebration by the Christian minority.

"Areas like Punjab will need the attention of the civilian government," Air Marshal (ret.) Masood Akhtar of Peshawar, a defence analyst, told Central Asia Online. "However, intelligence-based operations and the combing operation have begun producing positive results."

The combing operation, which includes the army and various other forces, will curb the ability of terrorists to attack, Peshawar-based security analyst Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah told Central Asia Online.

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