After several military offensives and countless sacrifices, when its seems, now it’s nearly over with terrorism, only some pockets and sleeper cells left, society was regaining momentum, economy was getting pace, countries getting confidence in Pakistan – terrorism again jolted the country with full thrust, eight terror attacks in a week’s time, yet again created a warlike situation inside and outside at border line with Afghanistan.
At times, when China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was at full swing, Pakistan’s Kashmir policy was at high nodes, Gwadar and Karachi getting strength, huge influx of foreign tourists, sport-people like skiers, heli-ski teams, Lahore was in spotlight for Pakistan Super League (PSL) final, several foreign militaries were at Pakistan’s training centers, 37 nations were in North Arabian sea for peace, harmony and smiles were returning quickly to the whole society, but then everything seems reversed, as “Sufism” attacked at Sehwan.
Pakistan rocked with chain of terrorist attacks in all major cities including Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Muhmand (tribal agency), Peshwar, Dera Ismail Khan and finally in Sehwan, in Sindh province – in which more than 100 martyred and at least 350 left with fatal injuries. The suicidal attack at the shrine of Sufi Saint Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sharif was the worst one in recent years, which inflicted a lot of pain to the whole Pakistani nation.
These were the nation’s sentiments, demanding boats to step in Afghanistan to kill or capture wanted terrorists but Pakistan again used diplomatic and military channels to request Afghans to handover wanted terrorists including 76 most wanted. It was unfortunate that no reply was extended by Afghanistan during 48 hours, so that military leadership responded and started artillery shelling on terrorist’s hideouts, training camps and their safe heavens across the border inside Afghan territory on Friday night – February 17th, 2016.
Pakistan tightens security by sealing the Pak-Afghan border, closure of Chaman and Torkham gates for unidentified period, massive internal operations and diplomatic pressure building tactics initiated and a warlike situation developed. The territory, which was once a strategic depth, where Pak-US fought a long liberation war against Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR) in the name of “Jihad”, where Pakistani ambassador’s Taliban were erected, Islamabad long sacrificed for Kabul since 1979 – brothers of all times became head-to-head with each other?
But, might be Pakistan and Afghanistan were never be so easy in presence of incurable proxies against each other, as venomous snakes never be protected, never be raised as pets, they are always crushed, in 80’s, if such practice followed in reality, South Asian region could never gone through such destruction, what current generation is witnessing in the form of a monster, the terrorism. Once Pakistan-US holy alliance spread snake eggs at Afghan soil to hatch widespread proxies and bite USSR, who invaded Afghanistan as aggressor, now in a tit-for-tat, Indo-Afghan nexus [for their nefarious designs] using these rattles to swallow innocents and weakening the state structure in Pakistan, while suspicious silence of US add to lethal venom nibbles.
It’s a common practice for hunters to kill snakes before snake bite them but when someone brought-up the snakes as pets in backyard and in a feasible amount of time, they grow in huge numbers, in a meanwhile, hostile snakes join their colonies and habitat, so gradually it becomes difficult to identify, who’s pet ‘n’ who’s wild?
Earlier, it was a popular thought in Pakistan that majority of Taliban were friendly and would never be so harmful but then realized that isolation soon after Afghan war in 90’s especially U-turn after 9/11 [the world trade centre (WTC) collapse in New York, USA on 9 and 11th September 2001] episode, was enough for Taliban to turn away. Most factions of Afghan Taliban believe that Pakistan betrayed them not only after nine-eleven but also in episodes of death of Mullah Mohammed Omar and Mullah Akhtar Mansour while drone attacks on Haqqani network were also because of Pakistan’s aid.
Though, Afghan Taliban were against Islamabad’s US support but never involved in any destruction inside Pakistani territory while never compelled banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to do the same, instead they asked to halt such designs but TTP never accepted such demands and distant themselves from Afghan Taliban. In October 2001 – soon after nine-eleven, US invaded Afghanistan to get rid-off extremists forces and make the historically troubled region calm but instead doing that US becomes supportive of Indo-Afghan policies particularly against Pakistan and let the territory go on its way of devastation. This has not only forced Pakistan to strengthen its dwindling ties with Afghan Taliban but interestingly, strategic interests brought Chinese and Russians at the same page too.
On the other hand, after the terrorist attacks in US, India has changed its tactics to indirect interference from direct intrusions at Pakistan, so Afghanistan’s trembling economy, weaker armed forces, prevailing corruption, conflict between [Afghan] Taliban and government; resultantly a poverty ridden population becomes a real fodder for India and US while available extremist forces in Pakistan add fuel to fire. According to many reports, ugly regional politics of using proxies to fight-out the immediate enemy still continues on both side of Pak-Afghan border. It’s also a bitter fact that one of the master, who earlier brought-up snakes as pets, now badly bitten since 2004.
Pakistan has taken some extra-ordinary steps in the form of strategic operations against majority of proscribed local and foreign terrorist organizations, hiding inside tribal belt, in cities and society at large, with special focus along the western borders with Afghanistan. These operations were significant in a sense that navy has given reconnaissance and surveillance support to both air force and army, air force conducted targeted air strikes at terrorist’s hideouts, destroyed their arm, ammunition and explosives dumps and factories and given necessary cover to army’s ground troops to conduct special operations.
Military offensives, like “Thunder” in Mohmand agency in early 2009, in the same year in May, operation “Rah-e-Raast” (Path to Straightness) in Swat and June operation “Rah-e-Nijat” (Path to Salvation) in South Waziristan, set the first ever blockade of terrorists with foreign support from Afghanistan. After tri-forces operations in 2009, Pakistani armed forces storm into Orakzai and Kurram agencies with operation “Khwakh Ba De Sham” (I will teach you a lesson) in early 2010. These operations have encircled terrorist’s at large and got maximum success.
This was as a result of these operations that Pakistan’s armed forces several defence and strategic assets and locations were targeted rapidly beside slaughter of civilian population, media, civil society, peaceful religious scholars and political personalities.Despite several military offensives and thousands of sacrifices, US and Western world were keep on blaming Islamabad for inaction in tribal area’s most notorious North Waziristan agency and as an extreme steps. US has several times, conditionalised Pakistan’s civil and military aid with necessary action against Haqqani network.
World was never realizing that earlier operations had squeezed terrorists inside one territory and given necessary grounds for armed forces to step in North Waziristan. So, in June 2014, military has initiated a very complicated and sensitive offensive, operation “Zarb-e-Azb” (Sharp and Cutting Strike) to completely root out these rattles (terrorists). Military advancement in North Wazisristan supported by operations Khyber-I and Khyber-II – termed a great success against home-grown and foreign snakes [terrorists] creeping in Pakistani society and outside the region into Afghanistan. After operation Zarb-e-Azb global acknowledgment came. On 5 November 2014, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, a senior commander for US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said in a Pentagon-hosted video briefing from Afghanistan.
“The Haqqani network is now “fractured” like the Taliban, that’s based pretty much on the Pakistan’s operations in North Waziristan this entire summer-fall, that has very much disrupted their efforts in Afghanistan and has caused them to be less effective in terms of their ability to pull off an attack in Kabul,” Anderson applauded. During former Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif’s official visit to Russia, Chairman of the State Duma, Sergey Naryshkin commended the operation and said, “We will stand by Pakistan in its fight against terrorism and extremism for stability in the region, our relations are independent, more consistent and will further grow”.
This was the first time ever, when Pakistan’s military had implemented Vietnam-Iraq war mixed strategies of “Seek, Destroy, Clear and Hold” means, seek the target, destroyed immediately, clear the infrastructure, bodies and weapons and the area, ensure post-operation security and infrastructure rebuilding and then go for rehabilitation. Before start and during every operation, especially Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistani political and military leadership has consistently compelled the Afghan government, their authorities including Afghan military and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and after that to Resolute Support Mission’s (RSM’s) to take consequential action against terrorists fleeing across the border in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s repeated calls at bilateral, trilateral and multilateral forums for taking simultaneous action against terrorists inside Afghan territory along border region were to prevent further destruction in Afghanistan and also their return to Pakistan but neither Afghanistan nor RSM responded to Pakistan’s requests. Interestingly, same were the demands from Afghanistan, which Pakistan had addressed amicably but till then Afghan’s were started playing at “Chanakya” chess board. After operation Zarb-e-Azb, a categorical decision was taken at state level to root out left terrorists, their sleeper cells, financiers, handlers and facilitators with wiping out all banned outfits, flush extremist religious factions working at different spheres in society to spread terror, extremism, hatred and disinformation to defragment the nation already suffered a lot but the proxies factor still unclear.
It’s extremely unfortunate that after fighting more than a decade long war to eliminate terrorism, Pakistan again rocked with terrorism and that was because of those proxies, the snakes. Pakistani political and military leadership immediately flipped the coin, summoned Afghan diplomats and officials, handed them over bulk of actionable intelligence and secret conversations among details of terrorists hideouts and list of 76 most wanted to Pakistan including TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah, while country’s military chief also have telephonic conversation with RSM chief Gen. John Nicolson at every aspect.
Pak-US talks includes action against terrorists, their hideouts, safe-heavens at Afghan territory along Durand line, capture and handover them to Pakistan, and also cautioned that Pakistan will retaliate, strike and take revenge, attack inside Afghanistan and if necessary could go for hot-pursuit as last resort. Pakistan compelled Afghan’s and RSM leadership to take immediate action against so-called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), hiding in safe-heavens in Afghan provinces of Paktika, Kunar, Nangarhar, Nooristan provinces and other adjacent areas with international border. Unlike past, this time message to Afghans and US [RSM], was very stringent and redlines drawn.
Moments after devastating attacks, the Pakistan military issued a strongly worded statement saying, “Recent terrorist acts are being executed on directions from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan. We shall defend and respond.” While army chief quoted as saying, “Each drop of the nation’s blood shall be revenged and revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone”.
Since Friday, February 17th, 2017 –three days of constant air strikes and artillery shelling at terrorists strong holds inside Afghan territory, contributes the killing of many terrorists including the deputy commander of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Adil Bacha and terrorists trainer Abdul Rehman alias Rehman Baba were got killed at Afghan soil, Pakistani strikes destroyed more than a dozen terrorist camps, hideouts and weapon dumps of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar-TTP. On the other hand, capturing of Lahore suicide attacker’s handlers, arrest of Da’esh connected networks and killing of Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani group’s [a splinter faction of TTP and in alliance with JuA] four high profile terrorists Zaman, vice commander Umar, comd Wasi Ullah and commander Zulam din alias Zulmat in Tank operation is a huge success of Pakistani security apparatus but still a lot to do.
Today, proper vigilance at borders with Afghanistan, an introduction of strict immigration and visa policy, stern checking at border entry points and complete destruction of all terrorists and extremist elements is needed. It’s imperative to introduce merit based, corruption-free accountable and honest culture in Pakistan, strengthen state institutions, overhaul judiciary, prepare an austere criminal justice system, revamp police and it investigation process, solidify the prosecution, establish military courts for at least three to five years time span.
In Afghanistan, things are not easy either. Might be after Moscow-China backed policy would strengthen Afghan Taliban but their current posturing clearly indicate – they are not much able to take over Kabul, as a result more threats are emerging, many dislodged Taliban factions, Pakistani banned outfits and foreign terrorists are joining Islamic state/Da’esh Afghan chapter. So terrorization will never ends quickly it will take decades to minimize and this needs cooperation.
At current scenario, tensions are hovering at Pak-Afghan border while Pakistani military chief calmed the situation a little by lauding Afghan efforts in the fight against terrorism and announced permanent engagement with immediate neighbour against terrorism from the region. “Enhanced security arrangements along Pak-Afghan border are to fight common enemy [terrorists] of all hue and colour”, General Qamar Bajwa reiterated during a high level security meeting at army headquarters at Rawalpindi.
“Pakistan and Afghanistan have fought against terrorism and shall continue this effort together” General Bajwa acknowledged the Afghan role and directed, “more effective border coordination and cooperation with Afghan Security Forces to prevent cross border movement of terrorists including all types of illegal movement”. Pakistan military chief welcomed recent proposals from Afghan authorities to take forward the mutual coordination for result oriented efforts against terrorism.
Pakistan and Afghanistan got several golden moments to settle their differences and move forward but trust deficit, policy of watching each other through Indian prism, making proxies to fight out their individual enemies, particularly Afghan leadership became successful in convincing their people that Pakistan is playing double game with Afghanistan while Pakistanis now widely believe Afghans are not working for Afghanistan but for India. There are some areas in which Pakistan also has not made much progress on bringing the Taliban at negotiating table. So, there are issues, which are of political and diplomatic nature, so must be dealt with politics and diplomatic maneuvers rather using military.
At this moment, Pakistan and Afghanistan needs gestures of peace, tranquility and equality, they have to sit together, listen each other, remove the differences and trust deficit and move forward in a cooperative and mutually understandable way, as there is no other way. Pak-Afghan dialogue process must be initiated at urgent basis; Afghanistan has to join Islamabad – 13th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit on March 1st, 2017 and other forums unconditionally.
Pakistan has to establish strict border controls but open them for Afghan trade, free-movement of the people, increase bilateral social, cultural, sports, tourism, academic, political and military relations. Afghanistan must be convinced on CPEC and Pakistan has to ensure Kabul, its support on Tukemanistan-Afghanistan-Pakis
Pak-Afghan bilateral military to military relationship should also be promoted on urgent basis, and Pakistani security forces got ample experience in fighting anti-terrorism war in cosmopolitan city environment, in mountainous regions, difficult terrain and climatic conditions with state of the art training facilities available across the country. Islamabad, Moscow, Beijing processes should be openly discussed with Afghanistan and all regional powers has to engage both Taliban and Kabul governments to for long lasting peace in Afghanistan. Rather calling international community to help Afghanistan, it’s Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran, India and Central Asian Republics (CARs) and rest of the regional countries to ensure uninterrupted defence, military, economic, technical and social protection support for Kabul on urgent basis.