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Pakistan Launches New Counterterrorism Operation

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Pakistan Launches New Counterterrorism Operation

Azm-e-Istehkam seems aimed at convincing Pakistan’s international partners that it is serious about tackling militancy and terrorism at home.

Pakistan Launches New Counterterrorism Operation

An army soldier examines damages on the site of a bombing at a police station on the outskirts of Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, Dec. 12, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo

The Pakistani government recently approved a new counterterrorism operation named “Azm-e-Istehkam,” meaning Resolve for Stability, to address the challenges of militancy and extremism in the country.

The operation comes at a time when intelligence-based counterterror operations are already underway, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and areas along the Afghanistan border, as well as in Balochistan.

The Shehbaz Sharif government’s announcement of Azm-e-Istehkam has raised questions about its objectives and the rationale behind its timing. Some opposition parties, such as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F), have expressed concerns, calling for an in-camera briefing and parliamentary involvement to understand the operation’s scope and potential implications.

In response, the government has said that Azm-e-Istehkam is not a large-scale military operation akin to previous campaigns like Zarb-e-Azb or Rah-e-Haq, which displaced large populations from tribal areas and other regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

It described the newly approved military operation as a “multi-domain, multi-agency, whole-of-the-system national vision for enduring stability in Pakistan.” The government said that the operation will focus on reinvigorating and re-energizing the implementation of the revised National Action Plan against terrorism, initiated in 2014 to root out militancy and extremism after building a national consensus across the political spectrum.  The government statement stressed that the new operation has adopted a comprehensive approach aimed at strengthening the ongoing efforts to combat militancy and extremism while ensuring the stability and security of the country.

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.

The timing of this announcement suggests that Pakistan wants to convey to its international partners and friends that it is acting on its commitment to improve the security environment in the country.

While the new operation may not differ substantially from the ongoing counterterrorism efforts, it could provide Pakistan with an opportunity to make a stronger case for its security credentials and the need for continued international support.

Moreover, the government’s decision to launch a new operation may also be an attempt to put the National Action Plan back on track, demonstrating a unified civil-military approach to addressing the challenge of terrorism. This could be seen as a message to the Afghan Taliban and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that Pakistan is determined to deal with the threat from a position of strength, even if negotiations are considered at a later stage.

It is worth noting that the Imran Khan government’s policy of engaging the TTP in negotiations and granting amnesty to around 5,000 of its militants did not yield the desired results, as the group has continued to launch attacks from its bases in Afghanistan.

The announcement of the new operation may signal a shift in the government’s approach, indicating a more assertive stance against militant groups.

Furthermore, the timing of the announcement could be influenced by Pakistan’s close ally, China, which has expressed concerns over the rising number of terror attacks targeting its nationals in the country. The new operation may be an effort to address these concerns and strengthen Pakistan’s ties with China, a crucial partner in the region.

As Pakistan embarks on this renewed counterterrorism effort, it will be crucial for the government to maintain unity and coordination among various stakeholders, both at home and abroad. Moreover, as the details of operation Azm-e-Istehkam unfold, it will be crucial for the government to engage with opposition parties, to address their concerns and ensure a transparent and inclusive process.