Written By: Farhat Javed Rabbani
Unprecedented successes in NWA are reflective of the professional acumen of Pakistan Military. Whole nation stands with our valiant armed forces and are proud of the lionhearted officers and men in uniform who are fighting audaciously and courageously to eliminate the terrorists. Effects of the successfully on-going operation are quite visible as terrorists are on the run. Many of them have surrendered, some are ready to discontinue activities against the state, and some are trying to take refuge in cowardly acts like attacking women and children. The carnage of innocent children in Army Public School, Peshawar is case in point.
Clad in white shalwar qameez and a grey dastaar, Ayub Dawar, with shuffling gait and gnarled hands, was walking with the help of a stick outside Sports Complex in Bannu. The weather was humid with abnormally high temperature and scorching heat this July. It had been more than a week that I was in Bannu to cover military operations in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) as well as to meet Temporary Displaced Persons (TDP) who had reached Bannu, the city adjacent to NWA. Ayub, 70, his beard reddened with hina, shared his story in half Urdu-half Pashto about how he managed to build his house in Shawal years back. “I worked as a labourer for twenty years in Saudi Arabia, saved every penny and built a big house in my village. It was peace all around. Then the militants came...” It seemed as if his memories both warmed as well as haunted him, sometimes drawing a smile and other times a tear.
When I asked him how long had he been standing in this long queue to get rations, he preferred to answer me with a reason, “I came here last night at 9 p.m. and it has been twenty hours now. But we understand the compulsions of the government and are happy with this arrangement as long as we know that a massive operation is going on in NWA, and soon our area would be cleansed of terrorists and we shall be heading back to our lush green fields.” Visibly disturbed and tired of camp life, Ayub was one among approximately a million TDPs who had left their homes in the wake of the military operation against terrorists. Dawar was hopeful about a safe, secure and prosperous future as a result of these operations. To my surprise, despite being resident of a far off village, Ayub knew much about the ‘dialogue’ between the government and banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) under the slogan, “Give Peace a Chance”. He was critical of this dialogue and to him, it was a futile effort that gave TTP more time to continue with their atrocities in the area.
Pakistan is fighting war against the menace of terrorism for over a decade now. Our society has suffered hugely due to worst security situation in addition to the loss of image at international arena. The war against terrorism, being led by Pakistan Army and other Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), has seen many ups and downs during all this time. As per editorial of Hilal Magazine (English), July 2014 issue, from 2004 to 2014, some 475 major and 133 minor operations have been launched to clear Bajaur Agency, Mohmand Agency, Malakand Division including Swat, and South Waziristan, Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai Agencies.
NWA is among the seven Agencies of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), established in 1892 with its headquarters in Miranshah. Its population is divided into three tribes: Wazirs forming the biggest part, Dawars are 35% and Mehsuds form 5% of the total population. But unfortunately, over the time, NWA had become the hub of terrorism as many terrorist attacks executed within soil of Pakistan were believed to be initiated from there. As a result, need was felt to carry out a military operation in this Agency. Despite efforts by the government to give peace and reconciliation a last chance, 20 major acts of terror were conducted between January 29 and June 8, 2014, in which 195 Pakistanis lost their lives. This bears testimony to the fact that terrorist organizations were never sincere to achieve peace through dialogue process.
Despite guarantees, the barbarians beheaded 23 Frontier Corps (FC) personnel mercilessly on February 16, 2014. Video of this incident released by TTP went viral on electronic and social media. Prior to this, 13 police commandoes were killed on February 13, 2014 when a bomb planted in a vehicle exploded outside Police Training Centre, Razzaqabad, Karachi. Suicide bombing of the FC personnel near the Iranian Consulate in Peshawar and decapitation of FC personnel wove a narrative of unprecedented use of violence. Immediately afterwards, TTP announced a month long ceasefire but continued their activities on one pretext or the other, finally attacking Karachi Airport on June 8, 2014, that proved to be the decisive moment to initiate operation in NWA.
Eventually, as a last resort and on the directions of government, Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Shareef set off a full-fledged operation against the militants. Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched to target all the terrorists’ outlets without any discrimination, local and foreign, hiding in the sanctuaries in NWA.
On June 15, 2014, Operation Zarb-e-Azb commenced from the headquarters of NWA, Miranshah, once considered as the hub of militants. The operation continued and was extended to the important town of Mir Ali; on the other end, forces moved towards Digan, Boya and Datta Khel, being the central areas where terrorists’ command and control centres were located. Militants in these areas were first targeted by air strikes and afterwards, ground operations were carried out. As per statistics released from time to time by Armed Forces’ media wing, ISPR, around 2000 terrorists have been killed during these operations.
Second-to-none, our brave soldiers are adding to the pride of this nation by sacrificing more and more. Since the launch of this operation, 197 soldiers have embraced shahadat in fighting this battle for Pakistan. Such a huge difference in the causalities between our forces and the enemy, has only been possible due to excellent military planning and perfect execution on ground, which our armed forces are known for. People of Pakistan must be satisfied as 90% of the areas have been cleared of militants in the second phase of operation. Miranshah, Mir Ali, Datta Khel, Boya, Degan and 80 km Khajori-Mir Ali-Miranshah road are among the areas cleared so far. Operation is still underway around Razmak, Shawal, Giryom, Shiwa and Spinwam.
Meanwhile, to support the main operation in NWA, Operation Khyber-1 commended on Oct 16, 2014 to strangulate terrorists and prevent them from fleeing away from west (Shahkot-Tirah Valley) to the east of Khyber (Bara and Jamrod). It also catered to sanitize Bara, Dogra and Spin Qamar, Jamrud Fort and Fort Sallop. These operations still continue with precise aerial strikes.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb was planned to be concluded in four stages: strangulation, clearance, rebuilding, and handing over control to civil administration. First phase was completed successfully whereas second phase is in progress and the agency is being cleared of the militants and their hideouts and command and control centres are being attacked. Third stage will be to rebuild the areas affected, and in the last phase of the operation, control will be transferred to the civil administration.
Major recoveries were also made during first six months of this operation. 5898 rifles along with 1288422 rounds of ammunition were recovered from different areas of NWA. In addition to this, 2193 Sub Machine Guns and 577756 rounds of similar caliber, 274 Machine/Light Machine Guns, 314 Rocket Launchers and 4901 Rocket Grenades were recovered. More so, security forces also recovered huge cache of 104 Anti Aircraft Guns of 12.7mm and 14.5 mm caliber along with 218050 rounds ammunition. This does not end here as in successful search operations, 4391 Mortars, 9135 Mortar bombs, 3321 Hand Grenades, 4808 Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and 1225000 kilogram of explosives were recovered by security forces.
Pakistan Army also seized 33 IED manufacturing factories, five rocket manufacturing factories, and seven ammunition factories. 186 tunnels/ hideouts/ caves used by terrorists for their underground movement and nine detention centres were also seized by Pak Army.
Unprecedented successes in NWA are reflective of the professional acumen of Pakistan Military. Whole nation stands with our valiant armed forces and are proud of the lionhearted officers and men in uniform who are fighting audaciously and courageously to eliminate the terrorists. Effects of the successfully on-going operation are quite visible as terrorists are on the run. Many of them have surrendered, some are ready to discontinue activities against the state, and some are trying to take refuge in cowardly acts like attacking women and children. The carnage of innocent children in Army Public School, Peshawar is case in point. Pak Army backed by the nation, is all set to eliminate every terrorist on this soil. Commenting on Peshawar incident, COAS said, “They have hit at the heart of the nation, but let me reiterate they can't in any way diminish the will of this great nation.” Complete political leadership, civil society, and even international leaders have expressed their grief over the incident. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while talking about this sad incident said, “Terrorism has become cancer which should be rooted out by all means… We must demonstrate total unity to eliminate terrorism.”
While the Operation Zarb-e-Azb continues on ground, we all should realize that it is not merely an operation; it’s rather a commitment to cleanse Pakistan of the scourge of terrorism once and for all. As the armed forces are engaged in defeating terrorists, we, the citizens of Pakistan, share a responsibility to transform the mindset that stems terrorism.
Despite hailing from a far-flung village of Shawal, Ayub Dawar also understands well about importance of elimination of terrorists and terrorism; through operation and through transformation. An operation can be conducted in NWA but how can some force conduct operation against mindset that supports ideology of TTP and which continues to exist in the masses in urban areas – some of them even clean-shaved and in Western attire.
In his twinkling eyes, framed by thick eyebrows, there was a ray of hope, but fears, too. “It [terrorism] has already carried off thousands; [we] can’t afford more!”