ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s military claimed on Sunday that it has successfully restored the state’s writ in the entire tribal region, including North Waziristan – once considered a hotbed of local and foreign militants.
“Security forces have cleared 4,304 square kilometres in North Waziristan Agency and restored the writ of the government in all areas, especially in remote pockets of the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (Fata),” announced the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement.
The statement, which gave a detailed insight into the successes achieved so far in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, suggested the almost two-year-long offensive against terrorists was inching closer to completion.
“In the last two months, eight soldiers of Pakistan Army embraced martyrdom fighting valiantly in Shawal while 39 were injured,” it said, adding that 252 terrorists have been killed and another 160 injured in the last phase of the operation.
The all-out operation was launched in June 2014 after efforts to strike a peace deal with the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates failed. The crackdown was intensified in the wake of the December 2014 massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar.
In February this year, the military announced the start of the last phase of the operation in the strategic Shawal Valley, especially the deeply forested ravines that were being used by terrorists for infiltration between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Pakistani Taliban once controlled swathes of territory in these north-western areas but a series of military offensives that began in 2009 has pushed them back into a few pockets.
Highlighting the successes, the army said the security forces have cleansed 640 square kilometres of land in Shawal. Major terrorist strongholds of Mana, Gurbaz, Lataka, Inzarkas and Magrotai have been cleared out.
All heights over 9,000 feet have been secured and hideouts of terrorists destroyed. Huge caches of weapons and ammunition have been seized during the operations.
The last phase, the ISPR pointed out, is being conducted in an “extremely hostile terrain and harsh weather conditions”. The battle to clear last pockets close to the Pak-Afghan border continues.
The military said there was virtually no communication infrastructure in the area when the Shawal offensive was launched in February.
During this war, the troops have constructed 150 kilometres of tracks upon the most treacherous of terrains. Most mountains are fully covered with snow and visibility is very poor on the heights.
In North Waziristan, 94 development projects have been completed while 153 more schemes are under way. “Progress of infrastructure projects of North and South Waziristan was reviewed by the chief (General Raheel Sharif) yesterday in the light of an already approved master plan,” the ISPR maintained.
About the people displaced by the ongoing operations, the military said the return of temporary displaced persons (TDPs) was progressing as per the plan. In North Waziristan Agency, 37,012 families (or 36% of the displaced people) have returned home.
Army officials cite significant reduction in terrorist attacks across Pakistan as proof of destruction of terrorist infrastructure and communications network in the tribal areas.
Since the beginning of the offensive in June 2014, more than 4,000 fighters linked to local and foreign extremist groups have been killed in the Waziristan region as well as in related intelligence-based raids across Pakistan.
It is not possible to independently verify details because of lack of access for aid workers and journalists.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2016.
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