By Mehr Ispahani and Saima Ghazanfar
The War on Terror had had a major impact on Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Pakistan Armed Forces had to face the threat of al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, who fled from Afghanistan and started targeting the state buildings, civil and military facilities as well as high-profile figures. Several operations were conducted against the terrorist groups located in Waziristan, Bajaur, Swat and other areas. As a reaction, Pakistan faced suicide attacks on hospitals, schools, government installations, infrastructure, men, women and children.
A broad-based counterterrorism policy, taking the issue holistically, came into being in 2014. The attack on the Army Public School that killed more than 145 children and adults proved to be a turning point for Pakistan’s counterterrorism policy. Zarb-e-Azb was thus launched on June 15, 2014, which has remained a very successful operation so far.
Pakistan has remained a target of different terrorist organizations for years. Different militant groups emerged during the US-led war in Afghanistan. Pakistan being the ally of the US in WOT had to face serious challenges both from inside and outside of the country. Waziristan and KPK for its proximity with the Afghan border had to face several attacks from different militant groups, mostly from across the border.
6 September 2014: Pakistan Navy frigate PNS Zulfiqar was attacked and briefly captured before being recaptured by Pakistan Navy forces. The attack was intended to use the Zulfiqar’s anti ship missiles to attack the US Navy Fleet in the Arabian Sea. 10 militants were killed in the ensuing operation to recapture the ship. 14 October 2014: Nine people were killed in blast in Taunsa Sharif District, D G Khan. 16 December 2014: At least 132 children among over 141 killed by Taliban militants who stormed an army-run school in Peshawar city. Seven militants were also killed during the SSG rescue operation. 18 December 2014: At least 3 paramilitary soldiers died in a roadside bomb blast in Bajuar.
18 February 2015: 3 people were killed and several injured in an explosion at Qasar-e-Sakina Imambargah on Kuri Road, Rawalpindi. 24 February 2015: Bomb killed at least one and another 8 were injured in Chaman district, Balochistan. 15 March 2015: TTP bombers targeted two churches in the Christian neighborhood of Yuhanabad, Lahore, as worshippers were gathering for Sunday mass. At least 14 people were killed and another 70 were injured. 20 March 2015: 2 people were killed and 7 wounded after a bomb planted on a motorcycle exploded outside a mosque in Karachi. 11 April 2015: Militants gunned down 20 laborers and injured 3 others in Turbat, Balochistan. 29 May 2015: 35 people were forced off a bus by the United Baloch Army men; 23 of those passengers were killed. 18 September 2015: 29 people, including an army Captain, were killed as militants attacked a Pakistan Air Force base in Badhaber, Peshawar. 29 December 2015: 26 were killed, 56 injured in suicide blast at NADRA office in Mardan.
20 January 2016: At least 20 people were killed and 60 wounded after gunmen opened fire inside Bacha Khan University. 27 March 2016: 74 people were killed and 338 others were injured in a suicide bombing that hit the main entrance of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, one of the largest parks in Lahore. 8 August 2016: A bomb blast outside a hospital where lawyers had gathered to mourn the death of a prominent lawyer killed at least 70 people in Quetta. 24 October 2016: Three militants stormed a police training centre in Quetta and took between 200 and 500 cadets hostage. Two of the attackers blew themselves up while the third attacker was killed. At least 60 people were killed and more than 190 people were injured. 26 November 2016: Two FC personnel were killed and 14 others injured when 4 suicide bombers attacked a camp in Mohmand; all 4 attackers were killed.
Under such circumstances the Pakistan Army launched operation Zarb-e-Azb and with an active support of the entire nation achieved unparalleled successes in the war against terrorism. The government and the military leadership took a number of difficult steps during the last few years. Pakistan is the only country that has rendered more sacrifices than any other country in this costly and protracted war. The above graph shows a gradual decline in the incidents of terrorist attacks during the last three years.
Moreover, under the National Action Plan, NACTA and COIN, a well thought out plan was envisaged especially to de-radicalize the society, especially in FATA and KPK. Though heavy price was paid in terms of the killing of Dr Farooq, the head of De-Radicalization Plan, yet this programme remained successful and hundreds of youths, who had been earlier hired by TTP for suicide bombing, recovered from South Waziristan and elsewhere where their handlers had been training them, were brought out from the brainwashed mindsets.
Extremist ideologies were countered through launching of ulema, intellectuals, psychologists, psychiatrists, TV programmes, workshops, seminars and by bringing in necessary changes in the curriculum. A moratorium on the death sentence put during the Zardari regime was lifted. The government hanged a number of terrorists and extremists, including the killer of Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer. Special Army Courts were also set up, which also hanged a large number of terrorists and where the cases are still under trial.
The government of Nawaz Sharif right at the outset launched development projects of metro bus service, orange line train service, green bus service, roads network, bridges, hospitals, and other infrastructure programmes. Despite opposition’s dharnas and agitations, the government succeeded in securing a historic mega project called CPEC with the Chinese government and the Pakistan Army as well the Pakistan Navy took direct responsibility of providing security for this project. A two divisions of armed force was raised and trained, deployed along the Corridor lines, which resulted in the passing of first 250-truckloads of convoy from China to Gwadar onwards.
Due to successes and gains in the Zarb-e-Azb operation, the world not only acknowledged Pakistan but world leaders also started visiting Pakistan and GHQ for extending and getting help in the expertise as to how to quell terrorism in their respective countries. Despite unprovoked firing on the Line of Control, instigative statements by the Indian leadership, the government and armed forces handled both external and internal threats. The Indian drama of surgical strikes was also exposed and the world recognized this fact that India has no capacity to launch such strikes.
These positive steps will help make the entire region stable and prosperous and it is all due to the tireless efforts and sacrifices of Pakistan in the war against terror. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has achieved its military and security objectives and that is how it will be remembered. The new Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa with his profile and vigor will follow his predecessor’s footsteps and will complete the task Gen Raheel Sharif started.