After the launch of the counterterrorism operation, the ability of the militants to wreak havoc has been severely diminished but not completely eradicated
The Pakistan army is in the midst of finalising its plan for the conclusive phase of the Zarb-e-Azab operation, which was launched a year ago in North Waziristan. Some 347 soldiers have reportedly laid down their lives in the line of duty during the operation, and 2,763 militants have been killed in the past year. Through dedicated efforts and coordinated strikes, many of the areas in North Waziristan, especially the Khyber Agency, have been cleared and the sanctuaries and communication infrastructure of the terrorists have been destroyed. However, a final push is believed to be required in Dattakhel and the Shawal valley, the latter being the preferred hideout for al Qaeda remnants that has also been the target of American drone strikes in the past couple of months.
But has the mission been accomplished? It is now established that the Pakistan army took the security operation seriously and made positive gains towards safeguarding national security but, at this critical juncture, we must assess the gains and losses. In a year, much has changed in the security landscape of Pakistan. It seems that there are discernibly less terrorist attacks of all sorts. Large and small urban areas alike had been war zones in past years, where everyone was an easy target and everything was fair game. After the launch of the counterterrorism operation, the ability of the militants to wreak havoc has been severely diminished but not completely eradicated. Terror attacks still occur occasionally in big cities like Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi but such activities are becoming increasingly difficult to execute for the peddlers of hate.
Besides mourning the loss of fellow countrymen — soldiers and civilians alike — the other impacts of the operation need to be kept in mind as well. Nearly a million people have been displaced from their homes because of the ongoing operation and there now is an enhanced police and military presence in urban areas, along with areas in Waziristan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Even after all that, there still remains a lot of work to be done once the army returns from North Waziristan. Revelations of the presence of sleeper cells in educational institutions in the past weeks have shaken our beliefs about the origins of militancy and IS is rumoured to have gained footholds in Pakistan as well. Furthermore, the spectre of sectarian violence has appeared once again and there is a danger that the militant organisations might morph into sectarian outfits in order to gain lost ground.
Additionally, questions abound about the fate of the insurgency in Balochistan, especially when seen in the context of the coveted China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is meant to run through these troubled areas. Some believe that the recent attacks along ethnic lines are an effort to deter the possibility of an increased state presence in the province; considering the way that this sensitive issue has been handled so far, there remains little hope of an early resolution.
There are also concerns about the rehabilitation of the internally displaced people who will have to return to their abandoned homes once the army wraps up the operation. When they return, the security situation in such areas will have to be monitored closely to stop the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other militant organisations from making their way back into the region. In the light of these issues, it is the need of the hour for the half-baked and vague National Action Plan to be strengthened and given the political and institutional support that it requires for successful implementation. We must not forget that there was unease amongst political parties about the launch of Zarb-e-Azab from the very beginning, or that the political will for a dedicated counterinsurgency drive only gathered mass support after the ghastly school attack in Peshawar.
Predictably, the support for the National Action Plan has not been forthcoming, with politicians and state representatives paying mere lip service to the ideas enshrined in the National Action Plan. If the ones running this country hope to end the menace of terrorism anytime soon, they will need to start taking action. To this end, the gains made in the tribal areas will have to be matched in the urban centres of the country. For this reason, the capacity for countering terrorism through local police and other parts of the security infrastructure will need to be enhanced by creating rapid response forces and better intelligence gathering networks.
Moreover, the porous Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan will have to be regulated in order to control the cross-border movement of militants. To achieve this, increased cooperation between the security forces of Pakistan and Afghanistan is required. Physically patrolling the entire border is neither feasible nor desirable, but monitoring the known weak spots and checking the emergence of new ones in the future would be a good starting point. Additionally, the grievances of the Baloch people will have to be alleviated because doing so would not only contribute towards an improvement in the domestic security situation but also reduce internal divides that have marred opportunities for growth in Pakistan.
Ultimately however, the goal of eradicating terror from our lives once and for all will only materialise once a social consensus for ostracising the preachers of hate in our society is reached. The already indoctrinated may be a lost cause, but if we start to focus on the young and empower them with tolerant values that promote the acceptance of diversity, then slowly but surely, we can hope to see a truly better Pakistan emerge in the future. Granted, this is a long-term strategy and will need an iron-clad resolve for its implementation, but when it comes to protecting our beloved homeland and establishing our place in the world, time should not be an excuse.
The author is a freelance columnist with degrees in political science and international relations
Mission Accomplished? | Syed Rashid Munir