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Daily Times Editorials – 16th March 2016

Gains’ against terrorism

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif has stressed the need to consolidate long-term gains of the army operation in restive tribal areas of the country. While presiding over the Corps Commanders Conference held at General Headquarters (GHQ), the COAS made a renewed call for escalating the pace of intelligence-based operations (IBOs) across the country to eliminate the entire infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan. Obviously, for cleansing Pakistan of all kinds of terrorism, there is need for a solid strategy and its proper implementation. For more than a decade now, the army has been leading counterinsurgency operations against militant groups in the country while the law enforcement agencies have been engaged in the fight against urban terrorism. Reportedly, Pakistan witnessed a decrease of 34 percent in terrorism activities during the year 2015 as compared to 2014 due to the army offensive against the terrorists. Mainly the Operation Zarb-e-Azb and a consensus of all political parties on the implementation of the National Action Plan resulted in a steep decline in the activities of terror and other heinous crimes in the country. According to details, incidents of terrorism reduced from 5,496 in 2014 to 3,625 in 2015 and the new year has so far witnessed 80 per cent decline in terror acts and extremism in FATA, Karachi and Balochistan.

Our country has been passing through a critical phase. The situation has become very precarious. After facing defeats in FATA, the terrorists have fallen back on a defensive strategy, with greater emphasis on urban terrorism. We are still in a state of war and our country has been facing a number of threats that are a major cause of concern. These threats include but are not limited to poor law and order, militancy, terrorism, sectarianism, presence of banned outfits and the perceived involvement of foreign agencies in destabilising the country. These are the real challenges. In order to tackle all these threats, stringent measures both by the civilian and army leadership are needed. No doubt, the scourge of terrorism cannot be eliminated overnight, but the ongoing operation must be supported at all levels. The security agencies need to pre-empt attacks. For this purpose, intelligence-based police operations are required. Solid cooperation among the intelligence agencies, both civilian and military, is critical. At the same time, more active involvement of the civilian government is also necessary. The COAS has called for a strategy to thwart internal and external threats. Internal threats are more dangerous since they often reside amongst us. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is bringing positive results. The last and major stronghold of the Taliban in the Shawal Valley has come under attack by the army. A major offensive is going on in those areas to flush out terrorists.

The COAS’s statement regarding the threat of terrorism can only be welcomed. There is a tendency to think that our anti-terrorism efforts are some sort of magic wand that will instantly end all terrorist attacks. The fact is that the army’s efforts have led to a massive overall improvement in the security situation. From time to time, the enemy will hit back. We have to put our own house in order to thwart their evil plans. The army and the civilian government are on the same page, but it should be visible in practical form. The federal and provincial governments should wake up to the threat of urban terrorism. The army chief has rightly said that the achievements and successes of the intelligence agencies should not go waste. Due to the military operation, terrorism has been rolled back but not ended yet. We need to stay the course in the fight against terrorism. There is no room for complacency. Every one of us is the target of these terrorists and all should stand up against this threat.

Russia’s Syrian withdrawal

In a move that has caught nearly everyone by surprise, Russian President Vladamir Putin abruptly announced that he is pulling a majority of Russian troops from Syria, nearly six months after he, just as abruptly, ordered Russian military intervention in Syria to shore up the defences of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Accompanying this announcement was Putin’s assessment that the military intervention had successfully achieved most of the goals; hence the time was right to pull out. The timing of the order is also significant, as the next round of United Nations-Brokered Syrian peace talks is about to start in Geneva. This move therefore signifies Putin’s desire to push through a political resolution to the long running conflict — a proposition that seemed precarious before. Back in September, when Russia first intervened, the Syrian civil war looked unending, and the position of the Syrian state was almost untenable as it was assaulted on all sides by a myriad of proxies propped up regional powers and the US while the Islamic State (IS) was winning swathes of territory and metastasising into a fearful global threat. In a marked contrast to the prevailing circumstances, Russia did away with the dithering of the US and resolutely came to the aid of Bashar al-Assad, with the goal of stabilising the regime and preventing further anarchy, and taking the fight to the IS directly. After these six months, Syria, while still embroiled in conflict, represents a much different picture and the prospects of a resolution seem much more viable.

The aid of Russia had bolstered the Syrian army, and with Russian air support al-Assad’s forces recaptured a lot of territory lost to both the IS and the rebels. Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on all opposition forces had raised a lot of hue and cry, and Putin was accused of undermining the peacemaking efforts. Certainly, Bashar al-Assad had become presumptuous and seemed unwilling to be a party to the Geneva talks in good faith. Russia’s pull-out therefore is a pointed message to its ally as well, that Russia’s support is not unconditional and is only meant to stabilise the state.

When the Russian intervention began, the US and other western powers accused Russia of inadvertently prolonging the conflict even more; they stated that Russia was entering a quagmire to which there was no end. These fears must have informed Putin’s decision to bow out. So far, Russia did not have to spend too much on its Syrian adventure as the cost of intervention was a fraction of its military budget; moreover, back home, the intervention in Syria was a political and public relations success, especially since there were no mass casualties suffered by Russian soldiers. In a short span of time, Putin’s intervention has ensure that there will be no forced regime change, has shown Russia’s allies it will come to their aid (in a contrast to the US), and has restored Russia as a major global player.

SC rejects an extension

Supreme Court (SC) rejected a plea by the capital’s civic agency, on Monday, asking for a three-month extension to evacuate the current offices of both federal as well as motorway’s Inspector Generals (IG), and has only given an extra time of a fortnight; that too, on the assurances by the security interior. Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed also heavily reprimanded the security department for not following the court orders, and went on to say that if the IGPs of Islamabad and the National Highways and Motorway Police (NHMP) considered themselves above the law of the country, they should hoist Islamic State (IS) flag instead of the national flag atop their offices.

SC had already directed the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to relocate the offices of the aforementioned IGPs away from the residential areas, in the previous hearing, on the basis of the illegal encroachments and blockades in sector F-7 and F-8 respectively. Hence, when the CDA counsel Shahid Hamid posited on Monday that the civic agency could not carry out such relocation overnight, and needed further time, the bench showed great dismay. It was also noted that this explanation did not hold much ground when the same CDA was able to demolish the I-11 slum on an immediate basis-without even giving the residents any leeway to ensure alternate accommodations.

Even if comments by Justice Azmat may be construed by some as ‘harsh’, it does point out to the colonialist attitudes adopted by some position holders in the country. However, this VIP attitude is not exclusive only to the senior officials in the security department. A quick glance over the elaborated protocol troupes which follow the men-in-power from all walks of life, and the extensive blockages around the respective residences gives a very clear picture of the inconvenience that the Pakistani public has to bear, every day. It was just last year that a 10-month old girl succumbed to this elite protocol, when she was denied entry into the Karachi’s Civil Hospital by the protocol staff due to the arrival of a political party’s chief at the facility.

Discourse by public figures such as CJP Jawwad S Khawaja in this regard should be highly praised, who turned down PM Sharif’s request last year, to avail both bullet-proof vehicles as well as a full security protocol. Nevertheless, this elevated need felt by the leading persons, country-wide, to maximise their security can be understood in the face of growing episodes of terrorism, which have, in the past, put them to spotlight. However, such defence measures prove to be a source of utter discomfort to the millions of Pakistani bearing the brunt of the VVIP movements and security protocols.

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