Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan is the kinetic portion of a counter-terrorism operation being carried out by the security forces in all parts of the country – while the nation rushes to help hundreds of thousands of tribesmen displaced by the newest phase of this almost-decade-long conflict, the Pakistani public needs to be fully aware of their responsibilities to the IDPs as well as their duty to the nation and the state by becoming intelligent and aware human beings who can identify the despicable enemy within…
Pakistan is in a state of war. Make no mistake about it. Terrorist attacks that occurred on an almost-daily basis (sometimes multiple times at multiple locations in a single day) which have significantly abated, and military operations on a limited scale in areas under the control of – or vulnerable to – militancy and terror groups are not random events that cannot be tied together with a single string of ideas: and yes, this string does not need to have a basis in the logic that “this is not our war; it was forced on us because of American intervention in Afghanistan; we should have maintained a policy of non-interference; we turned our back on our Muslim brothers” and so on. Pakistan is in a state of war: and it has been in a state of war since 2004. Though undeclared and unannounced, the tit-for-tat between militants and the military can only be accurately understood and correctly interpreted – by experts as well as by the general public – if we accept and acknowledge that we have been at war with a dastardly and despicable enemy for almost a decade now.
Though Pakistan has been fighting an undeclared – since until some months ago, un-owned – war since 2004, when terror attacks first started occurring in Pakistan in the form of bomb blasts, this war came to our doorstep in full force during 2007: the events and the aftermath of the Lal Masjid siege laid the groundwork for taking the (militants’) war against Pakistan (and the military’s war for Pakistan) to the next level. Between 2007 and 2013, the war cost Pakistan more than any other country in the entire world when measured in terms of infrastructure damage and loss of life. Pakistan still mourns more than 50,000 dead citizens and law enforcement officials (including soldiers and policemen), and the damage to the national economy has been estimated at over US$ 100 billion.
Concentrated military operations took place in the tribal agencies at various points in time between 2007 and 2010, and then the most significant counter-terror operation took place in the South Waziristan tribal agency (2009) and in the settled area of Swat (twice in 2009 alone). Alongside these major operations that were led by the Pakistan Army, other operations by the military, paramilitary, and intelligence agencies – as well as routine operations by civilian law enforcement agencies and police forces – have continued to take place over time: one may imagine that they have only increased and, with the promulgation of the Protection of Pakistan Bill, will have a significant impact in terms of actually bringing terrorists, criminals and anti-state elements to justice.
OPERATION ZARB-E-AZB: TAKING THE FIGHT TO THE TTP
Since mid-June, a full-fledged kinetic operation has been launched by the Army and Air Force in the tribal agency that was considered to be the “hub” or “command center” of the TTP terrorist organization, where it had taken control of many areas and established bases, weapons depots, training centers, and “troop concentration” areas where many foreign militants were also hiding. The operation was launched after continued efforts by the incumbent government to reach a negotiated peace with the TTP failed – and continued to cost Pakistan heavily and dearly as the security forces maintained a ceasefire while TTP elements and cadres continued to attack state and society – and according to Pakistan’s own timetable: it is no secret that among America’s “do more” list for Pakistan, a military operation in North Waziristan (particularly against the “Haqqani network” that operates against U.S., NATO and Afghan forces with devastating impact) was on the top for many years.
THE WAR ALL OVER PAKISTAN: THE CRITICAL STATUS OF KARACHI
Before the kinetic military operation was launched in North Waziristan, a quasi-military (police action led by the paramilitary Rangers force) had been launched in Karachi – and in other parts of Sindh – since late 2013 to combat increased terrorist and criminal activities in Karachi which had continued to rise since 2009-10; multiple attacks and criminal/terror activities were reported in the city on a daily basis for the past few years, resulting in elevated security levels that have been maintained since then (and only enhanced by the incumbent government after it came into power in May 2013). Though covert and strictly secretive in nature, a full-fledged operation against terrorism, militancy, extortion, and serious criminal activities is taking place in Karachi since the new PML-N government took office in 2013: ostensibly, this operation has the support of the PPP – which was in the federal government until 2013, but continues to govern the Sindh province, while the MQM (the PPP’s sometimes-ally-sometimes-adversary) alleges that the operation is designed to target MQM workers and party cadres. Despite a serious attempt – or increased seriousness in the attempt – to secure Karachi and stabilize the economic hub and financial capital of Pakistan, serious loopholes in the security apparatus of the city (particularly the civilian security institutions) continue to raise eyebrows. Senior police positions at the Additional Inspector General (AIG) and Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) still remain vacant in Karachi, though thankfully, the position of Inspector General (IG) of Sindh Police has recently been filled on a full-time basis. Many continue to ask: who is responsible for the continued uncertainty – and resultant instability – of these senior police positions remaining vacant in the interim period? Is the Government of Sindh or the Interior Ministry in Islamabad to blame? To be more precise: is the trust deficit between the PPP and the PML-N (or fears of the military) to blame? Did the previous government not launch an operation of this scale and magnitude in Karachi due to political expediency, since its major political power base in is Sindh if not Karachi? Did it not want to ruffle the feathers of its then-political ally, the MQM, which “controls” the political outcomes in Karachi, whether it is an electoral exercise or a political activity? These questions still require definite and cogent answers, even as the Supreme Court continues its hearing on a suo moto case regarding Karachi’s security: a case whose previous judgments declared that political parties maintain militant wings in the city, and a case whose hearings still continue despite two Chief Justices (by cause of superannuation) having retired since the case started.
SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES: NO DEARTH OF HEROES
A trend of terror attacks in Karachi that has picked up pace and has become more frequent is one where security forces’ officials – particularly those of the police – are being targeted in Karachi. To those who have been studying the case of terrorism and counter-terrorism in Pakistan, similarities can definitely be drawn with terrorist operations in Peshawar in yesteryears, when at least two senior and extremely important security officials – Peshawar’s Capital City Police Officer (CCPO), Malik Saad, and Inspector General of the Frontier Corps (IGFC) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Safwat Ghayur – were assassinated by militants after being continually targeted in various attempts. These are but two among many brave and valiant security officials to whom the people of Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in particular – and the people of Pakistan as a whole – will always remain indebted, since they were the first and last line of defence between the TTP and its terrorist affiliates taking over a major urban city in the KP province adjoining the FATA tribal agencies. Karachi’s CID chief, Chaudhry Aslam, was targeted multiple times, and was eventually martyred by a bomb attack on January 09, 2014: again, he is one of many security officials serving in Sindh who laid down their lives in the fight against terrorism and terrorists. The Pakistani nation continues to be indebted to these heroes, and knows that the nation’s security forces have such shining examples which will continue to serve as beacons of excellence and models of what a protector of the nation and the people is like. Though Pakistan has lost these brave men to the dastardly attacks of terrorists and to the immortal embrace of martyrdom, there are still many more experienced, capable, competent and valiant professionals who continue to serve in the civilian security forces, the paramilitary and the military: it is because of them that Pakistan continues to exist as a viable nation-state whose existence can be sustained and will be perpetuated for the years to come.
NATIONWIDE SECURITY ALERT: TWO PERSPECTIVES
Since the start of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a nationwide security alert is in place. The operation’s casus belli (reason for initiation) is considered to be the attack on the Karachi airport, which was an assault conducted by Uzbek militants who were sheltered and trained by the TTP. Security of all airports throughout the country has been strengthened, with multiple layers and rings of protection established around airport perimeters. Nevertheless, Karachi continues to be a volatile security flashpoint: even as late as July 2013, police officials and Rangers paramilitary forces were targeted by gunmen as well as shot at when they conducted search operations in volatile areas of Karachi, like Lyari, Sohrab Goth, and Katti Pahari, among others. And the above-stated trend also continues: CCTV footage released recently showed that terrorists on a motorbike deliberately targeted a police official in uniform as he was riding his own motorbike in front of them (and unaware that terrorists were behind him and about to shoot him): the first few shots resulted in the police official’s motorbike going out of control, skidding, and coming to a halt near the curb of the street. The terrorists on the motorbike followed suit: they rode up to the policeman in distress, and the terrorist with the gun got off to shoot the policeman at point-blank range in execution style. The CCTV footage ends by showing that the terrorists took the policeman’s sidearm weapon (and/or some other article) from his dead or dying body, and then making their escape on the motorbike. There are two ways of interpreting this: terrorists have now increased their targeting of security forces personnel – especially when the latter are least expecting it – in order to lower the morale of the public (who cannot expect to be safe if their guardians, the police and law enforcement officers, are so vulnerable to terrorists) as well as law enforcement agencies (who would have to take added measures to protect themselves from terrorists, and would thus deviate from their original responsibility of protecting the people, and by doing so, would create additional hindrances in effective and timely communication between the citizenry and law enforcement agencies). The other way of interpreting this is that because of the ongoing security operation in Karachi, which has many dimensions (counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, crime reduction, restoration of law and order), the terrorists are losing their ground in the city: their cadres and cells, their support from political parties and external intelligence agencies, and most importantly, their sources of weapons and financing (such as theft, robbery, gun-running, narcotics peddling, and recently extortion, which has become a cancer for the city and a bane for its financial elite) are becoming scarce, so they are making last-ditch efforts to revive their strength and importance in the city by targeting those forcing which have systematically eroded these capabilities of all anti-state and anti-social elements (from petty criminals, to miscreants and criminal gangs, to terrorists and terrorist financiers who are linked with organizations like the TTP and therefore are part of national as well as trans-national criminal/terrorist networks).
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN POLITICAL SUPPORT AND PUBLIC SUPPORT
Despite its allegations that the ongoing (kinetic but low-intensity) operation in Karachi is designed to target and eliminate its workers – and its “electoral strength” in the city – the MQM held a rally in favour of the Pakistan Army and to express its solidarity with the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan on July 06, 2014: the event brought together political parties like the PML-N and the APML (led by incumbent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and his arch nemesis of late, former President Pervez Musharraf, respectively). Though all parties were ostensibly invited to the event so that they may, in unison and with unanimity, express solidarity with the Armed Forces, the PTI did not attend and did not send any of its members or a delegation to this political show of support for the ongoing military operation. In a scenario where almost all political parties shed their acrimony towards one another and came together for a national cause (for the sake of appearances if nothing else), the PTI still found an excuse to not partake in the rally – not that its support for the military, or Operation Zarb-e-Azb, or its efforts to shelter the IDPs are to be measured by the number of party members that it would have sent. In a national talk show, a PTI legislator said that the party was not “properly invited” to the rally – one wonders why (and how) all other national and provincial parties made it to the widely publicized event through “improper invitations” from the MQM.
In order to truly exhibit political maturity and express solidarity with a national cause and an intensive effort to consolidate national interest, the representatives of the people need to rise up and get out of their shell(s) of insecurity and self-interest that binds them to the basics of political survival: if these characteristics cannot be displayed by parties that operate and get elected at a national level, then any military operation in a specific area will not be successful because in its aftermath, the country’s civilian leadership will be ill-equipped (and frankly, not concerned) with winning the hearts and minds of Pakistan’s tribal citizens who have long been neglected and deprived, and who have been suffering for decades so that their fellow citizens in other cities and provinces can enjoy relative security and the benefits of economic development (no matter how miniscule they are). And – this goes without saying – regardless of whom one voted for, and regardless of whether a political party joins a rally in support and solidarity of the Armed Forces or not, the entire nation is grateful of the services and sacrifices rendered by the brave men and women who wear the uniform of the Pakistani security forces: the people of Pakistan do not need to attend a rally or shout slogans to show the Pakistan Army (or anyone else, for that matter) that their soldiers are our heroes; that the people are cognizant of the fact that the Army has been holding the nation together and keeping the state intact by denying terrorists the space and capability to turn Pakistan into a failed state; that our brave and valiant soldiers are not only loved and cherished, but also immortal in the ultimate sacrifice that they present in the service of the nation and for the protection of the people. Without a shadow of a doubt, they acquire the exalted status of immortal martyrs by giving their lives for the people of Pakistan: and the people of Pakistan are least ungrateful of such an enormous sacrifice, for the martyrs of Pakistan live on forever in the hearts of the people. Such is the power of public support (and its eminence over political support) and such is the bond that the people of Pakistan – especially true patriots – have with the brave men and women, soldiers and officers of the Armed Forces and all of Pakistan’s security forces: the fearless defenders of the motherland, whose doctrine is that “it is better to live for something than to die for nothing”.
THE CIVILIAN GOVERNMENT’S CAPACITY AND THE NATION’S CAPABILITY AND RESPONSIBILITY
The Pakistan Army has carried out offensive operations in limited areas within the country’s territorial confines to clear specific areas and eliminate militants and terrorist strongholds from those areas: if the nation-wide structure and apparatus of terrorism is to be eliminated from its roots, then a nation-wide military operation is required. This is why Pakistan has been in a state of war for almost a decade now – a low-intensity conflict gathering momentum and transforming into medium-intensity intensity warfare in the settled urban areas where highly protected sensitive installations of the government and military are attacked by militants. But the nation-wide war has not been launched by the military precisely because of the dearth of effective, capable and altruistic civilian leadership at the helm of government: the military can only “clear” and “hold” vulnerable areas, while the civilian government (and the public) has to take over governance of the area and manage the “build” as well as “transfer” phases of a counter-insurgency operation. Redevelopment of a warzone should be the primary priority once the military objectives are achieved so that displaced residents can be resettled and basic infrastructure restored (and improved) to serve their needs. Complete transfer of authority – particularly the policing of the area with improved protocols and heightened alert levels – can only take place if state institutions (and officials of the state and government) are capable enough to exercise and perpetuate the writ of the state that is re-established in the area(s) successfully cleared by the military.
If the incapacity of elected civilian governments at the federal and provincial levels is a sad reality in Pakistan, it must not be allowed to dampen the spirit of the Pakistani people, who can rebuild what is destroyed through sheer will and determination: after countless natural calamities and man-made disasters that Pakistan has suffered, it is the indomitable will of the people that prevails and perseveres, and it is the rock-solid foundation of the country’s existence. Anything built on top of it can be rebuilt if destroyed, and it can be improved if it is not effective. The people of Pakistan must not only support the military by chanting slogans and holding rallies: the citizenry must undertake their civic responsibilities – enormous as they are – towards the nation and towards their fellow countrymen by rebuilding what is lost or destroyed, and by undertaking a soul-searching, introspective national discourse on whether radicalism, fundamentalism and militancy in the name of religious purification should be allowed in Pakistan, or whether it should be holistically eliminated and surgically eradicated from every nook and corner of the vast homeland of Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluch, Pashtuns, Hazara, Gilgitis, Kashmiris, Seraiki, and so many other ethnicities and linguistic groupings who profess to be Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, and various other creeds and denominations. Celebrating unity in Pakistan’s rich diversity will not only serve to include the long-neglected tribal brethren into the national mainstream, but will also help in the idea of Pakistan – and the reality of Pakistan – winning the hearts and minds of disenchanted Muslims as well as radicalized Islamists, who would be incentivized to shun their regressive beliefs and actions in favour of a modern, progressive, inclusive and development-oriented approach that will take Pakistan and all Pakistanis to the heights of greatness, prominence and eminence among the comity of nations. Without a doubt, that is Pakistan’s destiny, and any diversion from the path of this goal is a short-lived hindrance, not an “existential threat” as many would believe. This nation, founded by the ideals of a philosopher poet and the efforts of a renowned, respected and acclaimed lawyer, has yet to realize its true potential: once the people of Pakistan unite in service of a common cause, there is nothing that can hold them back. History has proved this again and again, from the birth of Pakistan till today, and if the citizens of Pakistan realize their common national purpose and their civic duty to the nation-state, the future holds infinite opportunities and boundless hope for progress and improvement so that one day, Pakistanis will hold their heads high among other nationalities and proudly say, “I am Pakistani”.
DEFEATING THE TERRORISTS: THE ROLE OF PAKISTANI CITIZENS IN OPERATION ZARB-E-AZB
Today, the general public is the most important source of intelligence and counter-terrorism information since they have the potential of becoming the eyes and ears of security forces – particularly in the urban environment, where terrorists can easily gel into the crowd, form sleeper cells, obtain refuge, and even undertake criminal activities to sustain the cell or evolve into a larger anti-state organization. Since the public forms the core component of the community, they are able to notice changes and anomalies within their home environment and local community more easily than security forces are able to. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the people of Pakistan to play their role in securing their communities and cities: by no means does this include taking the law into one’s own hands. Citizens must become more aware and more cognizant of their surroundings; they must maintain regular contact and communication with other members of their community and society, as well as with those officials of law enforcing agencies who are deputed to protect and secure them and the areas in which they live. Any anomaly or perceived changes must be studied closely and carefully; while there could be cases of false alarms, time and again it has been proven – also in Pakistan – that timely information from responsible citizens and effective policing efforts by local law enforcement (without giving suspected terrorists and miscreants time to adapt, retreat, or respond/retaliate) have resulted in successful prevention of acts of terror that – if they were to take place – would have resulted in the deaths of many Pakistanis, and injuries (sometimes fatal, other times life-changing) to many others. To do this, the people of Pakistan must overcome the perpetual trust deficit that exists between the public and the police: recognizing this deficit, security forces – particularly the Army – has set up special counter-terror information hotlines in major cities, so that information from citizens in the community may be passed directly to the relevant intelligence agency, and so that the police responds in an effective and supportive fashion rather than relegating actionable intelligence items and/or critical threats to a lower level of importance: to the detriment of not only the general public that bears the brunt of terror attacks, but also that of the integrity and operational effectiveness of the police force.
State and society must work together to eliminate criminals, terrorists and anti-state elements who pose a clear and dangerous threat to peace, public security, the lives and properties of Pakistani citizens, and to the state of Pakistan and its writ over the country’s territory. Society needs to overcome the psychological obstacles which prevent them from being an active part of public policing – an activity where the community helps local police and law enforcement maintain a vigilant eye on the neighbourhood and act preemptively to apprehend suspects and prevent them from disguising themselves as members of the community (before they plan and undertake their planned terrorist activities). In case the threat is of a continuing nature, such as criminal elements threatening the public through threats, display of weaponry, extortion demands, etc. then police and law enforcement agencies must be involved at the very first instance, so that these elements can be completely rooted out. The same goes for drug dealers and narcotics peddlers, since they form an integral part of a supply chain that yields financial benefits for terrorist insurgents (leaders as well as sleeper cells organized in various urban centers and settled areas): sometimes, terrorists themselves sell narcotics in order to acquire funds for implementing their plans and strategies designed to disturb public peace and wreak havoc and mayhem on society as well as the state.
Only by joining hands and consolidating forces can this ignominious threat be overcome: otherwise the ongoing operation and related counter-terrorism activities – including the promulgation of the Protection of Pakistan Bill – will be useless. The people of Pakistan must truly and wholeheartedly be “on board” with the state and security forces, and fight the menace of terrorism, extremism, intolerance, militancy and fundamentalism with the founding pillars of this great country: unity, faith, and discipline.
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