The fresh wave of terrorism, particularly the deadly terrorists’ attacks in Lahore and Sehwan Sharif, has forced the government to launch a countrywide security operation against militants, their facilitators and sanctuaries.
The campaign – Radd-ul-Fasaad – having major focus on urban centers, is believed to be long anticipated and needed too; following the purging from militants the ‘peripheries’ particularly the tribal areas and adjoining districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the hard-fought military actions.
Apparently seemed to be launched as a reaction to the fresh wave of terrorism, however, well informed quarters believe that this campaign is part of the grand military strategy prepared and followed for years now. When this grand strategy was formed, the fear of militants was widespread in society. In certain areas, they were having physical control of territories and predominantly targeting personnel of security forces, law enforcement agencies and government installations.
It was decided then to go gradual. Starting from scrubbing the crust of the earth first, denying the militants from holding any physical space before targeting the militants and their facilitators in their underground sanctuaries particularly in the urban centers of Punjab.
No doubt, by its very nature, Radd-ul-Fasaad is not going to be an easy exercise. It’s going to be tougher and more complicated as it brings the war against militants into the streets of densely populated centers.
Additionally, it’s not area specific but covering the entire country. Here the law enforcement agencies have to go deep and clear the underground sanctuaries instead of sweeping the crust.
In all the earlier military offensives, the battles were limited to certain geographical areas, with options of evacuating the entire population, isolating terrorists and their sanctuaries; and more freedom to use heavy weaponry including artillery, gunship helicopters or jet fighters. Radd-ul-Fasaad has no such option of isolating the terrorists by evacuating the population. And being fought in urban streets there is limited or no option of using artillery or gunship helicopters.
So it was primarily planned to be an intelligence-based offensive, where the target was to be first identified through actionable intelligence before going and fishing them out from the midst of the populace.
However, since its launch on February 22 till date, the way this ‘final showdown’ against the-now-invisible enemy is carried out; one does not find the tempo and impetus of previously conducted operations, which were conducted in a conventional military style. It was planned to be an intelligence-based countrywide affair, in order to convey a strong message to the enemies and their facilitators, that now they can’t run or hide from a certain area to another and avoid action.
Besides Pakistan Armed Forces, the operation also includes police and other LEAs. From initial action of police, it seemed to be the typical random ‘pakhar dakhar’ of police. From the word go, the very first impression somehow created, was that the campaign is aimed at targeting persons of a particular ethnic background or those belonging to specific areas. This unintended consequence is detrimental not only for the operation but also a negative to be exploited by the enemies of the federation of Pakistan. Particularly, Pakistan Army leadership must take notice of it and curb this practice without delay.
Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad was planned to be a precise, result oriented exercise having an element of ‘surprise’; not striking randomly or arresting people on the basis of mere doubts or having certain complexions. As of now, on many occasions we see the typical policing mentality is in the working. The way it was initiated gave an impression that the personnel of law enforcement agencies already knew where the militants and facilitators were hiding and they were just waiting for orders. The usual target areas are the slums and localities where low income or poor people are living. This police activity including intelligence setups appears good for optics or a typical police ‘karguzari’ aimed at furnishing a ‘sub-acha’ report. Terrorists and militants are not ordinary thieves or street criminals to be brow beaten by going in an utterly disorganized way or creating a chaotic situation by exercising the hit-or-miss option. The sooner we realize to re-organize our actions the better; otherwise this ‘national campaign’ may not produce the desired results. And we must make all efforts to make it a success; a final decision blow to the enemy.
By virtue of the fact that the battleground is lying deep in populations’ centers, Radd-ul-Fasaad is, no doubt, a most complicated battle. It is a test of both the political and military leadership where failure is not an option at all.
To create the desired national impact and send a strong message to the enemies; that there is no place for them to hide; the political leadership, both in government and opposition, the civil society and all law enforcement agencies have to be on the same page.
Due to sheer propaganda on ethnic persecution, by creating a rift – or a sense of rift – in the society vis-à-vis the campaign, we are reinforcing our failures to the benefit of enemies and their facilitators both within and abroad.
The current state of random and haphazard style must be shunned immediately. It has to be made a national campaign where all arms of security apparatus including the Army, Air Force, Navy and Rangers be involved in the true sense and law enforcement agencies be assisted through actionable intelligence.
No doubt, failure is not an option for the nation but here the success too is not an easy goal. As believed to be a ‘final showdown’ we shall be ready for a long drawn nerve wrecking exercise.
We shall be mindful of the fact that once the ‘direct or latent terrorist threats’ are eliminated, the next phase will be definitely targeting the sectarian and other extremist organizations. It is part of the grand purging strategy. As such organizations may not pose immediate or direct threat, however, they are instrumental in radicalizing the society and bringing bad name to the country. Facts are also revealing that majority of the militants who joined the terrorists or jihadi organizations were once part of different sectarian groups.
It’s going to be tough for reasons that unlike past anti-militant adventures, where heavy weapons were used, here we will be combing the entire population for picking the bad boys through sheer intelligence. For successful intelligence we need to have the confidence of the people which is possible only through winning their hearts and minds.
It has be made indiscriminate and broad based while targeting the militants and their organizations with no leniency for ethnic or political backgrounds. Otherwise, potentially, it can spoil the gains of past military offensives to the benefit of the enemy.
Moreover, the new leadership of the army has to be conscious of the fact that irrespective of which law enforcement agency is conducting the campaign, people expect results from them.
Military has to its credit the conduct of the toughest of campaign against militants and Radd-ul-Fasaad shall prove to be a culmination of all the anti-militant campaigns. So it’s a test of the new military leadership.
Of all the military operations, Rah-e-Rast – launched in May 2009 in Swat valley by former COAS Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani – was the most difficult military offensive. Militants had taken over physical control of Swat valley following a peace deal with government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The campaign displaced almost 2.5 million people, however, within a span of three months, not only the entire valley was cleared and handed over to civilian administration, but all the displaced people were rehabilitated.
Former COAS Gen Raheel Sharif too has to his credit taking the wars to the most difficult terrains and heavily forested valleys of Shawal and Tirah in North Waziristan and Khyber Agencies by launching Zarb-e-Azb, and destroying the command and control centers of hardened militant organizations. The era of Gen Kiyani and Gen Raheel was the era of clearing the peripheries.
Today as the fighting against militants has entered the urban centers, the people have more but genuine expectations from the new commander of Pakistan Army, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa – who no doubt is new on the seat but has been on the scene for very long.
The writer is a senior journalist, analyst and anchor person.
Courtesy Hilal Magazine (hilal.gov.pk)