No military can win any war without the support and full backing of its nation. The successes of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (Op RuF) are a clear exhibition of this notion. Started in February 2017, the RuF was devised on multiple dimensions. It won’t be an exaggeration if we say that it was an operation with a comprehensive approach. Before Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was started in June 2014, militants of different types and shades were holding many areas in tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (former FATA). North Waziristan was the epicenter of terrorism in the country while Khyber Agency also had Lashkar-e-Islam’s headquarter beside TTP, Ansarul Islam, Amar Bil Maroof and other groups. With Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency, the Pakistani military also started Operation Khyber II. With the success of Zarb-e-Azb and Khyber II, the Pakistani military was able to clear all areas from the control of militants. The top leadership of the militant groups fled to Afghanistan while many second and third-tier commanders as well as fighters mixed themselves up with the help of their sympathizers and supporters in different parts of the country. That was a dangerous development as dealing with a concentrated presence was relatively easier than tracing, finding and neutralizing the scattered presence of hardcore militants as well as their support networks.
In this context, Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad was launched in February 2017 which now has completed four years. Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations Major General Babar Iftikhar has recently shared extensive details about the successes and impacts of RuF. Before discussing and commenting on those details, I would like to share a statistical overview of our own monitoring of the security situation in the country at the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS). According to the PICSS Militancy Database, the average number of militant attacks per month before the start of Operation Zarb-e-Azb was 155 attacks which dropped down to 42 attacks at the end of 2016. The average number of militant attacks per month in 2020 was 15.5 which means there has been a 63 percent reduction in violence during four years of Radd-ul-Fasaad. Pakistan’s march towards peace can be gauged from the fact that the level of violence and human losses in terrorism has dropped below 2004. The current wave of terrorism in the country had started in 2002 in the context of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. After 19 years, the violence in Afghanistan has not only spread to all corners of that country but it spread in many other countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya etc. Except for Pakistan, it went up everywhere, while Pakistan is the only country that has almost put the genie back in the bottle. It was not a cakewalk though, as we lost thousands of our citizens and soldiers.
The enemy used religious sensitivities to promote its strategic objectives. Pakistan being an overwhelmingly Muslim majority country fell prey to this design. However, we learnt that only the use of force can just suppress the disease but that’s not the cure. The cure came with a comprehensive approach adopted by our military by launching RuF in February.
RuF was different from other military operations as it was not conducted in any specific area rather, it was spread all over the country to secure urban cities and towns from the menace of terrorism. As mentioned earlier, it is multi-pronged, however, its two main dimensions were that our armed forces fight against the hardcore terrorists while the society activates its own immune system and fight against the scourge of extremism.
Our armed forces have been operating in the conflict zones in four phases: i.e., Clear, Hold, Build and Transfer to the civil administration. It is no doubt that every inch of erstwhile FATA was cleared and successfully held by our security forces during Operation Zarb-e-Azb, but for sustainable peace and stability, clearing of remaining terrorists, their hideout, and, social uplifting of the affected areas and writ of the civil administration was most important.
Pakistan Army has taken all the stakeholders on board including civil law enforcement agencies. It is a combination of hard and soft powers. Hard power had few cardinals and one of the most important cardinals which were long overdue is ‘use of violence is the sole prerogative of the state’. Securing and managing the western border and eliminating the support base of the terrorists was also part of the strategy.
The most neglected aspect of our national counter-terrorism and counter-extremism efforts was the ideological front. As mentioned above, the militants used religion as their motivational and exploitation tool thus, any countermeasure without addressing the ideological aspect would never succeed. Pakistan military leadership also took a keen interest in the ideological aspect of the problem. Major General Babar Iftikhar rightly said that an ideology can only be countered by a superior ideology or a superior argument. Pakistan Army has the motto of Emaan, Taqwa, Jihad Fee Sabeelillah and our soldiers are the real Mujahideen. The miscreants used the sacred term of jihad to misguide our youth and create mistrust in the state and its institutions. Paigham-e-Pakistan is a great initiative to address the ideological fault lines. Under the Paigham-e-Pakistan initiative, a unanimous fatwa was issued by 1829 religious scholars of all schools of thought and now endorsed by more than six thousand Islamic scholars and Ulema had a great impact on the terrorist groups such as TTP. The impact can be gauged from the fact that the head of TTP Mufti Noor Wali in an open letter in 2019 protested against the fatwa and requested the religious scholars to reconsider it. The fatwa effectively gave a message to the people of Pakistan that the militant groups operating against Pakistan have no backing or endorsement whatsoever from Ulema and what they are doing in the name of jihad is nothing but fasaad.
As mentioned above, Op RuF has a ‘whole of nation approach’. Pakistan Army played its role in the implementation of National Action Plan, especially FATA reforms and subsequent merger of FATA, police reforms, educational reforms as well as madrassah reforms. Single national curriculum is also part of the overall efforts and the slogan ‘One Nation, One Destination’ is resonance of the comprehensive approach.
The statistics revealed by the DG ISPR during his February 22, 2021, press conference provide insight into the efforts of our armed forces to protect all of us from the threat of terrorism. During these four years 3,75000 Intelligence-based operations (IBOs) were conducted during four years of Op RuF. It shows that our armed forces are active round the clock to protect the motherland and the activity is not just being ready to protect rather, it was an operational activity. Perhaps no other military can have such a high level of operational activity on a daily basis. Furthermore, in four years of the 375000 IBOs that were conducted, out of these 34,122 were conducted in Punjab, 170,240 in Sindh, 79,9143 in Balochistan and 92,331 in KP.
All that was said and claimed by DG ISPR has a true reflection on the ground too. In 2020, a leading international magazine CN Travelers included Pakistan in the best holiday destinations for 2020. A country that people used to fear to travel to is now listed amongst the top-most tourist destinations. At the end of 2019, Pakistan declared the world’s third-highest potential adventure destination for 2020. Karachi was ranked 6th in crime ranking in the world previously. Now it is ranked 106th in the world.
Today’s North Waziristan is seen holding cricket matches and other social events. The tribal traditions which were badly affected by extremism are coming back to the forefront and people are cherishing their freedom. There is no doubt that there is a long way to go but things are on a positive trajectory.
Peace cannot be achieved in isolation. The current wave of terrorism in Pakistan is directly linked with the security situation in Afghanistan. Unless peace returns to Afghanistan, Pakistan cannot have complete peace. During the last four years, Pakistan has played a key role in the Afghan peace process. The agreement between the Taliban and the United States in February 2020 was a shining example of Pakistan’s efforts for peace in the region. Pakistan is still committed to the Afghan peace process and playing its role in a leading position. The U.S. leadership has openly admitted that without Pakistan’s help breakthrough in the Afghan peace process was not possible. The new U.S. administration is also keen to keep seeking Pakistan’s help in achieving the desired results.
Pakistan is fencing its border with Iran too which will reduce the risk of cross-border attacks and free flow of terrorist groups such as BLA, BLF, BRAS, BRA etc. which had established sanctuaries in the neighbouring country. Pakistan has taken stern actions against groups who were active against Iran. In short, Pakistan is gradually heading towards bringing normalcy to all its borders except the eastern border. The resumption of ceasefire along the Line of Control and Working Boundary is a step towards normalizing the eastern border too. Peace within and outside is the key approach Pakistan has adopted and taken forward. The core issue of Kashmir is the main hindrance on the eastern front. Unfortunately, India under the rule of an extremist regime is bent upon destroying peace in the region. All extremists flourish during conflicts, disputes and wars. Extremists of RSS will have no future if peace is achieved with Pakistan. Thus, peace with India may remain an unfulfilled dream but the rest of the countries in the region are responding well to Pakistan’s peace overtures.
There is no doubt that we have achieved great successes during the Op RuF, but still, we have to completely eradicate the threat of extremism. We cannot lower our guards and our society will have to keep playing its role in defeating extremism of all shades.
The writer is a counter-terrorism analyst currently working with Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS). He can be reached at [email protected]
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