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Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Operation: Myth vs. Reality

Discussion in 'Pakistan's Internal Security' started by MBI Munshi, Jun 28, 2016.

  1. MBI Munshi


    Apr 8, 2007
    +5 / 5,400 / -0
    United Kingdom
    What Pakistan isn’t telling the public about operation Zarb-e-Azb.

    By Abdul Basit

    June 27, 2016

    June 15 marked the two year anniversary of Pakistan’s counterterrorism operation Zarb-e-Azb, which has now entered its final phase. To commemorate the occasion, the director general (DG) of the Pakistani military’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), General Asim Bajwa, made an elaborate presentation in which he shared the military’s achievements and sacrifices against terrorists in the country.

    What is crucial to remember, however, is that there are always two sides to a story – one that is told and one that is not communicated clearly to the public. What has been told to the citizens of Pakistan regarding Zarb-e-Azb – that is, its successes – appears to be straightforward. It is essential now to weed out the “untold” aspects of Bajwa’s presser to understand the future challenges facing Pakistan’s war against home-grown extremism and terrorism.

    As far as the successes are concerned, three achievements merit particular attention. First, Zarb-e-Azb has fully restored the writ of the state and currently no area in Pakistan is under militant occupation, barring a few scattered pockets of influence and sleeper cells. Pakistani territory has largely been retaken from militants. Second, the operation has led to a significant change in Pakistan’s internal political discourse — namely, the conclusion that appeasing militants through negotiations or reconciliation is futile. These practices alone cannot bring peace, unless initiated from a position of strength.

    The third and most important achievement concerns the state garnering popular support in countering terrorism. Operation Zarb-e-Azb, under General Raheel Sharif’s watch, has to an extent regained public trust in the state and its institutions. It has revived a sense of confidence in the common man that the state has resolved to bring peace by defeating terrorism.

    Having recognized the achievements of Zarb-e-Azb, however, it is important to look at the aspects that didn’t feature in the ISPR press conference. By doing so, we can try to outline the challenges Pakistan may face in countering terrorism in the future.

    First, Zarb-e-Azb has certainly dismantled and dislodged Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but it has not yet been destroyed. TTP has relocated to and resurrected its infrastructure in Afghanistan, enabling it to become a low-intensity long-term threat to Pakistan due to cross-border support and sanctuaries. In other words, the terrorist threat to Pakistan is far from defeated—which has been one of the core objectives of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

    Second, as estimates independent of those presented in General Bajwa’s presser also suggest, there is no doubt that terrorist violence is at an all-time low, but worryingly enough intolerance and extremism appear to have increased within Pakistani society. The ever-widening gulf between Pakistan’s “secular-liberals” and the right-wing “Islamists” has been exacerbated alarmingly, further shrinking the common space. The erosion of the middle ground is alarming; it will increase the already high level of polarization and politico-religious fissures in society.

    Third, ambitious counterterrorism operations are good opportunities for states to rebuild their image and correct negative public perceptions, both at home and abroad. Unfortunately, contrary to the fanfare generated during Zarb-e-Azb’s launch, with it being termed as the “mother of all operations,” it has in fact failed to live up to the media hype created by the ISPR. Beyond local consumption, it has not won Pakistan much recognition regionally and internationally. Poor strategic communication and dull diplomacy are to be blamed for this failure; counting Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war on terror and playing victim to international and domestic security dynamics have merely won hollow platitudes.

    Furthermore, prior to the launch of the operation, public opinion favored rooting out radicalization and extremism from society’s midst, which could ultimately result in defeating militancy and terrorism long-term. However, beyond tactical measures and cosmetic steps, no serious efforts seem to have been made to tackle the two-headed monster of extremism and radicalization. Criminalization of hate speech and the ban on extremist literature were the most crucial steps to be taken in this direction. However, there is still no concerted effort to devise a national counter-radicalization policy. Lacking this, the gains of Zarb-e-Azb are fragile and possibly even reversible.

    Over time, terrorism has evolved and morphed from a security threat to an ideological challenge. Consequentially, Pakistan’s battlefield has expanded from the literal physical space to the symbolic ideological space. In the latter, the war of narratives is fought through ideas. However, Pakistan’s strategy in the war of ideas, the basis for countering an ideological threat, appears to be missing. Without this, promoting moderation and inter-faith harmony are unachievable goals. Pakistan lacks a coherent, forward-looking narrative, which should reflect the vision of its founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who envisioned Pakistan to be a moderate Muslim state.

    Finally, Zarb-e-Azb was an opportunity to revive the dysfunctional National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), which could meet the competing demands of different law enforcement and intelligence agencies through central coordination in countering terrorism. However, NACTA remains low on the governments’ priorities as stakeholders from both military and civilian setups continue to fight over its control and ownership.

    In addition, the present situation with the criminal justice system is no better. Similarly, the Anti-Terrorism Courts’ performance remains less than ideal and leaves much to be desired. The military tried to overcome these gaps through ad hoc arrangements of military courts and special policing powers granted to them under Article 245 of the Constitution. Much-needed institutional reforms in the police and judiciary are still lacking. Hence, despite doing well against the terrorist threat on tactical levels, the institutional capacity of counterterrorism with clearly demarcated and well-defined professional functions remains absent.

    From a strategic point of view, a good operation is short, focused, and limited in its objectives. An unrealistically overambitious operation with vaguely defined objectives can turn a timely victory into a prolonged defeat. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has achieved its military and security objectives and that is how it will be remembered. It will also be remembered as the legacy of General Raheel Sharif, and it will be an illustrious one. Sharif has returned hope to the people of Pakistan and now the operation should be taken to its logical conclusion by allowing displaced families to return to their homes respectfully.

  2. baqai

    baqai FULL MEMBER

    Sep 28, 2006
    +1 / 1,540 / -0
    till the time we kill the snakes within our own ranks who are protecting and harboring these terrorists while enjoying elite status i don't see us getting close to success
  3. Signalian


    Aug 18, 2015
    +198 / 14,758 / -0
    The writer is confused about main directive of Zarb-e-Azab, which was to flush out all miscreants in NWA in FATA area, this has been completed. The operation was not to follow them globally but to clear Pakistan from these parasites.

    That said, a second phase of operation can be mounted to target TTP in Afghanistan but attacking targets in foreign territory is a different ball game than conducting operations on own soil. There are diplomatic channels involved, logistics including medical and evacuation procedures, choice of weapons and forces used and sharing of intelligence, which are just basics. A JOINT command maybe needed with Afghans ans well as NATO to conduct such ops.

    Pakistan has protested drone attacks by USA on own soil, so a basic option of using drones to attack targets on Afghan soil is not easily possible.

    Lastly, the border sealing along Durand Line as well as Torkham gate construction is part of the same process, so the writer is basically jumping ahead on conclusions.
    I find this a very weak point and somewhat unrelated to Zarb e azab op. The correction of political thinking and their institutions was not the objective of Zarb-e -Azab. There are dedicated ministers in the cabinet of Pakistan who are directly related to such issues. What makes the writer think that Pakistan Army and Zarb e Azab is responsible for every on going thing in Pakistan is beyond me.

    Zarb e Azab has won accolades from local population, so writer is wrong in one context, however, international recognition has not been won to a high level, which maybe due to:

    1. The world may think that TTP is a group bent on destroying Pakistan only, with almost all TTP attacks happening against Pakistan

    2. The world considers ISIS a greater threat towards the world than TTP/Haq net/A-Q .

    3. ISAF is sitting in Afghanistan in fortified bases however the impression given to the world is that they are actively battling and mounting daily ops against Haq Net/ A-Q, Tal etc and winning it.

    4. Pakistan is battling an individual war of its own. Pakistan is not fighting along side ISAF in Afghanistan, Pakistan is not fighting against ISIS in Syria.

    5. The term "Do More" for Pakistan in such context relates to fighting a War by taking out targets which threaten NATO/ISAF, not Pakistan. So in Op Zarb e Azab, Pakistan has put itself first with secondary importance to targets which are primary threats to NATO/ISAF.

    and there could be many more.

    Pakistan Foreign Ministry has done little in this regard. Pak FM should have shown to the world through diplomatic channels that:
    1. Op Zarb e Azab was a starting step,
    2. Op Zarb e Azab was an important step in WOT
    3. Op Zarb e Azab is the way to conduct ops in WOT
    4. Op Zarb e Azab is a format for cleanse the region from terror threat.
    5. Op Zarb e Azab is amalgamation of combat boots on ground and combat boots for re-building civilian affected area.
    6. Op Zarb e Azab started with Seek-Destroy-Clear-Hold but is the building block of 5th gen warfare.

    The writer fails to understand that the effects of any military operation takes time to show. The effects of Afghan war of 1980's showed up badly after a few years. Some of the effects of Zarb-e-Azab can be seen readily, other will follow soon. A mentality or setup cannot be changed in a couple of years. People start experiencing changes, then start accepting changes and incorporating them.

    Since the NWA/ FATA area has been cleared now, the re building will start. Army is making schools and hospitals in these areas, this will raise literacy level of the area. The radicalisation will cease as madrassas have been closed and targeted.

    In any case, people of Pakistan seldom follow policies but they have seen the damage done in their daily lives by extremisim and radicalisation, when just like in Israel, a child needs to pass through ten police check points to reach school. This is just one casual example.
    Another irrelevant observation.
    Operation Zarb e Azab is not responsible for promoting law and order in Pakistan, thats the job of police and the law system. However Zarb e Azab has brought peace in many cities of Pakistan.
    The complex structure of Paramilitary forces under Interior Ministry is more of a grave concern, as should a serving army officer in FC/Rangers etc report to Interior Minister or COAS. The DG Rangers should follow Interior Minister or COAS.

    NACTA should be able to follow Paramilitary setup, its not rocket science.

    The mentioning of failures of talks with TTP has much to do with court systems, whether civil or military. procedures take long, gives leverage to TTP, promotes more chances of escape/rescue of these most dangerous fugitives, more protection required in prisons and during transfers...somehow Pakistan has become safer after Zarb e Azab , unfortunately not through military courts, though im in full agreement for procedures through courts and legal system.
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  4. Zarvan


    Apr 28, 2011
    +88 / 52,068 / -13
    The only thing I am worried about is not coming up with counter narrative.And please counter narrative will not come from seculars it would come from those religious scholars who say truth and are not interested in making Government or the other side happy. Those scholars should also be put in Islamic Ideology Centre