The federal government has finally ordered the military to launch an all-out offensive against militant hideouts in the restive North Waziristan Agency (NWA), formally calling off months-old efforts to strike a peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates.
“On the directions of the government, the armed forces of Pakistan have launched a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists who are hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan Agency. The operation has been named Zarb-e-Azb,” said chief military spokesman Major-General Asim Saleem Bajwa in a statement on Sunday.
Zarb-e-Azb was the name of the sword used by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during the Battle of Badr, explained one military official.
Another official, while speaking on condition of anonymity, disclosed that a ‘comprehensive’ operation means that the armed forces would use all available means to clear terrorists from the area.
“This includes a ground offensive to establish the writ of the state,” he said. The official did not provide details about the number of troops taking part in the operation, citing strategic reasons.
The decision to launch a full scale military offensive was taken on June 10 during the high-level civil and military huddle attended by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Raheel Sharif. However, the formal launch of the operation was delayed till the holding of the presidential run-off vote in Afghanistan at Kabul’s request, the official said.
“As of now, North Waziristan Agency has been isolated by deploying troops along its border with neighbouring agencies and Fata regions to block any movement of terrorists in and out of the agency,” an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement said. “Within the agency, troops have moved and cordoned off all terrorist bases, particularly in Mirali and Miramshah.”
The ISPR statement said an announcement for locals will be made soon, asking them to approach designated areas for evacuation. It added that the political administration and disaster management agency has made necessary logistics and administrative arrangements for tribesmen displaced from NWA.
“Surrender points have also been made for militants who chose to quit violence and give up their arms.”
Meanwhile, the military was conducting aerial surveillance of the region, according to ISPR. Afghan security forces have also been asked to seal off the border to prevent militants from escaping military action, it added.
“[Afghan authorities] have also been requested to initiate immediate measures to eliminate TTP terrorists and their sanctuaries in Kunar, Nuristan and other areas of Afghanistan.”
The announcement came hours after the military carried out massive air strikes in North Waziristan, killing scores of suspected terrorists, including the mastermind of Karachi airport attack, Abu Abdul Rehman al Manni.
According to ISPR, around 105 militants, including al Manni, were killed when jet fighters bombed the Digan village in NWA’s Dattakhel tehsil late Saturday night. The majority of those killed were Uzbeks belonging to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the army’s public relations wing said.
At least 10 other militants were killed when helicopter gunships and howitzers shelled their hideouts in the Moski, Barokhel, Khushali and Torokhel areas of the agency’s Mirali tehsil on Sunday, a security official said.
Maj-Gen Bajwa said: “Terrorists have waged a war against the state of Pakistan using North Waziristan as a base, disrupting our national life in all its dimensions, stunting our economic growth and causing enormous loss of life and property.”
“They also paralysed life within the [tribal] agency and perpetually terrorised the entire peace loving and patriotic local population,” he added. “Our valiant armed forces have been tasked with eliminating these terrorists, regardless of hue and colour, along with their sanctuaries.”
“With the support of the entire nation, these enemies of the state will be denied space anywhere across the country,” he added.
A senior security official told The Express Tribune that Operation Zarb-e-Azb would be aimed at eliminating all those elements, who pose a threat to Pakistan. The decision to launch an operation means that efforts to strike peace deal with TTP and its affiliates are now officially over. Security officials said the military expected to clear terrorists from the area before the start of Ramazan.
“Growing infighting within the TTP and recent surgical strikes have considerably weakened the militant outfit,” said one official. However, he cautioned that while the main targets would be achieved within the next few weeks, the real challenge would be rehabilitation and rebuilding, which could take many months. “In the rehabilitation and rebuilding process, the role of civilian authorities will be the key,” the official added.
In a statement, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said directions had been given to eliminate terrorists who were responsible for the slaughter of innocent Pakistani civilians and law enforcement officials.
“We, as a government, tried our level best to resolve this crisis through dialogue. We were frustrated through attacks on innocent Pakistanis and damage to national assets. This operation will continue till the surrender or elimination of the enemy,” he added.
Appeal for unity
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid appealed to all political parties to “stand with us and our armed forces to fight this battle.”
“We must unite now behind our men and women in uniforms. Pakistani nation has decided that those who want to disrupt our way will be taken to task,” he said in a statement. Prime Minister Nawaz is expected to take parliament into confidence today (Monday) over the decision to go after militants in North Waziristan.
Although criticising the government for delaying the launch of the military operation in NWA, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah welcomed the move, saying the decision was taken in ‘the larger interest of national security’.
MQM chief Altaf Hussain too welcomed the operation and said the entire nation backed the government and the military in this move against terrorists.
Seven dead in latest TTP infighting
At least seven TTP members were killed on Sunday in the ongoing infighting between the Khan Syed Sajna and Shehryar factions of the militant group, a security official said. According to him, the Khan Syed Sajna group lost two members while the Shehryar group lost five men in the latest clashes, which took place in NWA’s Shawal tehsil.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2014.