Pakistan’s renewed counter terrorism effort: Operation Azm-e-Istehkam

by Moneeb Mir

Pakistan’s top leadership has approved the initiation of a new military campaign to address a rise in violence. This operation coincides with ongoing intelligence-driven counterterrorism efforts, especially in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Balochistan. The commencement of Operation Azm-e-Istehkam (Resolve for Stability) signifies another phase in Pakistan’s prolonged struggle against militancy and terrorism.

On Tuesday, in a high-level meeting led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif approved the launch of Operation “Azm-e-Istehkam,” in order to “combat the threats of extremism and terrorism in a comprehensive and decisive manner”.  According to The South Asia Terrorism Portal, which tracks data on terror attacks in the region, Pakistan has experienced over 300 terrorism-related deaths so far the in the ongoing year.

In the years following 2016, the terrorist activities of the TTP were significantly reduced due to large-scale kinetic military operations by the Pakistani military. Operations such as Zarb-e-Azb (2014-2016) and Radd-ul-Fasaad (2017) demonstrated the country’s evolving approach to this complex issue. However, efforts to eliminate such a terrorist group solely through kinetic operations proved insufficient, as terrorism has reemerged after a hiatus.

Zarb-e-Azb focused on eliminating the militant strongholds, especially those of the Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).  Although the operation succeeded in dispersing militants and decreasing terror attacks, however, experts are of the view that it failed to address the underlying social and economic causes of extremism. It also culminated in the displacement of a large number of civilians which eventually led to humanitarian crisis.

While it became a nationwide effort to further reap the benefits of  Zarb-e-Azb, operation Radd-ul-Fasaad was launched as an initiative involving the military and various law enforcement agencies. This operation targeted remaining militant activities, dismantled sleeper cells, and strengthened border security. However, its effectiveness remains debated due to limited transparency.

Pakistan’s renewed effort, Azm-e-Istehkam, signifies a strategic change. This comprehensive approach integrates military measures to eliminate immediate threats with socioeconomic development programs to address the fundamental causes of extremism in conflict regions. Law enforcement reforms and regional cooperation in countering cross-border threats are also central to Azm-e-Istehkam’s success.

While speaking to media, Defense Minister, Khawaja Asif said “This operation will be slightly different from previous ones. It will commence with actions against terrorists. The operation has no political motives; its sole purpose is to counter the recent surge in terrorism, and therefore, it should be supported by everyone.” Law enforcement reforms and regional cooperation in countering cross-border threats are also central to Azm-e-Istehkam’s success.

According to Umair Jamal, correspondent of The Diplomat in Islamabad that the government’s decision to start a new operation might also be an effort to reinvigorate the National Action Plan (NAP) in order to display a strong resolve against terrorism and  a cohesive civil-military strategy to combat terrorism. This can also be perceived as a signal to the Afghan Taliban and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that Pakistan is determined to address the issue of the terrorism with firm hands and from a commanding position, even if negotiations are considered in the future.

Durdana Najam, a public policy expert, wrote in Express tribune about Pakistan’s perspective when it comes to starting a new operation to combat terrorism. She opines that Pakistan believes that India instigates terrorism by patronizing TTP. This alleged support takes multiple forms, weakening Pakistan’s security from within. As with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, India is exploiting its potential sway with the new regime to create safe havens for the TTP in Afghanistan to carry out terrorist activities in Pakistan. Also, by exploiting Pakistan’s internal ethnic and sectarian fault lines, India creates breeding ground for the extremist narratives of the organization like TTP.

From Pakistan’s point of view, dismantling the TTP threat necessitates a dual approach, it is the implementation of strong internal counterterrorism measures through initiatives like Azm-e-Istehkam, and exerting significant diplomatic pressure to counter perceived Indian interference.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the new counter-terrorism push was approved with the consensus of all stakeholders including the four provinces as well as Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). However, opposition parties including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam Fazl (JUI-F), Awami National Party (ANP), and others have voiced concerns over the military operation, demanding that parliament must be taken into confidence before taking any such decision.

Some experts also believe that the government’s announcement of a new military operation is a strategic move aimed at addressing domestic and international concerns. The rise in militant attacks in Pakistan has led to its allies calling for more concerted efforts to curtail the threat of terrorism.

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