Zarb-e-Azb: Strengthening Pak- China Relations
Operation Zarb-e-Azb is a joint military offensive conducted by Pakistani armed forces against the militants in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) that include Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Al-Qaeda and many others. In the backdrop of failed negotiations with the Talibans and a deadly attack on Karachi International Airport in June 2014. The military establishment, government and political forces took a unanimous decision to finish off the menace of terrorism in its all forms and manifestations. On June 15, 2014, Pakistani military launched ground operations and air strikes in the NWA by employing its infantry divisions, artillery, armour and airforce. The stated aim of Zarb-e-Azb was to strike against all terrorists without any discrimination/distinction of good or bad Taliban.
Since past one year, according to ISPR, the operation has been successful in killing around 2,763 militants, destroying 837 hideouts and recovering 18,087 weapons and 253 tons of explosives. Thousands of suspected terrorists including 218 hardcore terrorists were killed in around 9,000 intelligence-based-operations (IBOs). The operation has resulted in decrease in the number of terrorist’s attacks to a considerable low level and improving the image of Pakistan in the international arena. The North Waziristan has now been 90 per cent clear of militants and their local support. The propaganda against Pakistan that it deliberately avoided operation and backed militant groups has also eased off. The Operation Zarb-e-Azb has also helped in improving Pakistan’s relations with its neighbouring countries who have supported Pakistan’s military counter terrorism efforts.
China, particularly has appreciated Operation Zarb-e-Azb as China itself faces serious threat of ETIM, a Uighur militant group residing in far Western Xinjiang region and responsible for a number of terrorist attacks in China, including the 2014 April attack at an Urumqi train station. This Islamic militant group aims to set up an independent state called East Turkestan and reportedly have bases along Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The presence of the anti-China terrorist group in Pakistan’s tribal region has been a source of concern for China. China has been leaning on Pakistan to take a more active role in the fight against terror and had expressed deep concerns during Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) visit to China in May 2013 over East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) activities in Pakistan and suggested operation against terrorists in North Waziristan. When Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain met Chinese President Xi Jinping after the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in 2014, he called ETIM a “common enemy” of Pakistan and China and assured the safety of Chinese citizens in Pakistan. Since then, targeting ETIM is probably high on Islamabad’s priority list.
According to reports, during the last one year of operation around 100 ETIM militants have been killed in NWA and around 66 terrorists have been handed over to China. The Pakistani Intelligence Agencies have also arrested 10 ETIM members in United Arab Emirates (UAE). A Saudi-based ETIM leader Zakria, who was on the most wanted offenders list of the Chinese government was also arrested by the efforts of the Pakistani intelligence agencies. Now after the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, in his recent visit to attend a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of WW-II in Asia, held at Beijing in September 2015, President Mamnoon Hussain has informed Chinese government that almost all members of the Uighur militant group (ETIM) and their affiliates have been eliminated from Pakistan and only very few are left. Currently, ETIM has been eliminated from Mirali, Miranshah, Boya and Degan regions. However, the ETIM threat persists because many terrorists have fled to Afghanistan and are getting training, equipment and safe haven from India.
Beijing has been responding very positively to operation Zarb-e-Azb. China’s Foreign Ministry has expressed its support for the Pakistani initiative. The ministry’s spokesperson Hua Chunying has praised Pakistan’s sacrifices and positive contributions in the fight against international terrorism. He has also acknowledged the reports about killing of ETIM militants in the Pakistani strikes. When COAS Gen Raheel Sharif visited Beijing in January 2015 and met his counterpart Gen Qi Jianguo. Both not only agreed to expand co-operation over regional security and defence-related issues but China applauded Pakistani Army’s efforts in the war on terror. The Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Gen Fan Changlong also praised the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb which he termed “decisive, bold and a hard blow for terrorists.”
Hence, the Operation Zarb-e-Azb has proven to strengthen the bilateral ties between Pakistan and China. Pakistan fully understands that the deepened economic cooperation with China in the form of Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC) will proceed much more smoothly if China’s security concerns are assuaged. Therefore, the Pakistani government has established special security division of 12000 special troops for the protection of more than 8000 Chinese workers engaged in the development of CPEC project. Besides having Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on counter-terrorism since 2005, both the states are looking forward for more intelligence sharing and joint counter-terrorism initiatives. China has provided 500 million US dollars to Pakistan as assistance to counter terrorism. Pakistan and China shares complete understanding on strategic and security issues. Both have always assured each other of full confidence and co-operation in the fight against terrorism. Therefore, the Operation Zarb-e-Azb is playing a pivotal role in bolstering the strategic ties between Pakistan and China.
The article was carried by Pakistan Observer on October 13th, 2015.
Disclaimer:Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.
Tags: ETIM • featured • militants • Pak-China economic corridor • Pak-China relations • Pakistan army • terrorism • Zarb-e-Azb
One year on, a look at the Zarb-e-Azb operation undertaken by the Pakistani military against the militants in North Waziristan
In action North Waziristan..
June 15, 2015 marked the completion of one year of the Zarb-e-Azb operation undertaken by the Pakistani military against the militants in North Waziristan, but there is no information as to when it would end.
The open-ended military action has been widely discussed and generally praised in the media. The military officials have termed Zarb-e-Azb a resounding success and the major reason for the significant drop in acts of terrorism in Pakistan. The figures put out by the military are impressive — 2,763 terrorists killed, 837 militants’ hideouts destroyed and 253 tonnes of explosives recovered. Also, 347 army officers and soldiers were stated to have given the supreme sacrifice of their life during Zarb-e-Azb. There is no way to check the authenticity of the terrorists slain and their hideouts destroyed, but most of the seized explosives have been shown to the media and visiting dignitaries.
Defence analysts with a military background have heaped praise on Zarb-e-Azb and found no shortcoming in the way it has been conducted. The functionaries of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government have been taking credit for ordering the operation to strike a hard blow at the militants in their biggest stronghold. Politicians of different persuasion, including the Islamists, have refrained from criticising the operation or its fallout, as they could be labelled as unpatriotic and pro-Taliban.
Like the other meaningful names given to several military operations carried out since the past decade in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Malakand division, Zarb-e-Azb too was named thus to deliver a powerful message that the blow to the militants would be like the “Strike of the Prophet’s Sword”. The name attempted to revive the memory of the sword named Azb used by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in his battles against the infidels.
At the time, the militants said they would launch Zarb-e-Momin operation to counter the military, but this didn’t happen. They couldn’t undertake any coordinated operation or resist the advancing Pakistan Army troops in North Waziristan. Instead, the militants continued to carry out roadside bombings and made use of suicide bombers to inflict losses on the government and its security forces.
Some of their biggest attacks included the failed attempts by 10 attackers to intrude into the two military airbases in Quetta on the night of August 14-15, 2014, the unsuccessful plan to hijack a naval ship at the Karachi seaport, the suicide bombing at Wagah border town, the attacks on churches and imambargahs in Lahore, and the high-profile bombings in Peshawar, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Shikarpur.
However, the militants were unable to maintain the momentum and intensity of their attacks. Rather, some of their attacks deprived them of whatever little public support they still enjoyed and led to a tougher response by the government against them. One such attack took place on December 16, 2014 on the Army Public School, Peshawar and resulted in the deaths of 145 persons, including 132 schoolchildren.
The militants were unable to maintain the momentum and intensity of their attacks. Some of their attacks deprived them of whatever little public support they still enjoyed and led to a tougher response by the government against them.
This particular assault forced a change in the government’s policy toward the militants and prompted the civil and military elite to come up with the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) to combat extremism and terrorism.
Zarb-e-Azb’s beginning was similar to most of the previous military actions and its subsequent course was familiar. There were airstrikes by the Pakistan Air Force and the Pakistan Army Air Defence Command for two weeks before the massive ground offensive was launched. The troops moved swiftly as they occupied territory and dismantled the militants’ infrastructure. The militants preferred to escape instead of putting up a fight against the much larger and better-equipped force. In the later stages of the operation, the forward movement of soldiers slowed down in the mountainous and forested areas such as Shawal and Dattakhel.
There was the usual displacement of people who were instructed to leave their homes and villages at short notice and head for wherever they could find refuge. One major difference in the displacement in case of North Waziristan was the decision by thousands of tribespeople to migrate to neighbouring Afghanistan. This was the first time in history that so many Pakistanis took refuge in Afghanistan.
The number of the migrating Pakistanis remained a matter of contention between Afghan and Pakistani officials but the total should be almost 100,000.
The North Waziristanis fleeing downcountry to Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Karak and beyond in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa did exactly what the displaced tribal people of South Waziristan had done in 2009 by refusing to stay in the relief camps set up by the government. Even in this hour of trial, following their customs and protecting the privacy of their women was more important for the tribal people than staying in a camp where they would be guaranteed regular supply of rations, drinking water and medical care.
Though the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from North Waziristan got more government assistance in cash and kind than others who were uprooted from their homes in previous military operations in other places in Fata and Malakand division, they kept insisting on going back to their homes in areas that the military was claiming to have cleared of militants. Their repatriation to North Waziristan finally began on March 16, but it has been slow and controversial as the tribal elders are complaining that they were being asked by the authorities to sign a tough code of conduct to bind them to confront the militants in case they tried to find refuge among the repatriated communities.
The IDPs’ return home is planned to be completed by December 2016 in North Waziristan, but this would depend on the security situation and the availability of resources.
Soon after the launch of the operation: Mirali in North Waziristan.
A recent study by the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), which monitors militant activities in South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia, noted that attacks by the militants in the country dropped to six years low after one year of the Zarb-e-Azb operation. It recalled that the recorded average militant attacks had gone up to 154 per month before the start of the Zarb-e-Azb. The count dropped more than 50 per cent to 71 attacks per months on the completion of one year of Zarb-e-Azb. It added that average militant attacks were presently the lowest since 2008.
According to the PICSS report, Zarb-e-Azb not only improved overall security situation in Pakistan, but it also caused serious dents to the unity of the TTP which splintered into at least three major factions once this military action was launched. Though the TTP suffered splits initially, it is also true that the militants subsequently began coming close to each other by overcoming some of their disputes. The militants too tried to close ranks against a common threat just like the government, military, politicians, civil society and others coming together to tackle extremism and terrorism.
The PICSS study showed that the average militant attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Fata, the places most affected by the decade-long conflict, dropped significantly in the wake of Zarb-e-Azb. The attacks per month in KP went down by 75 per cent from 49 to 12. In adjoining Fata, the attacks were reduced from 31 to 16 per month. The PICSS reported that Zarb-e-Azb also had a positive impact on the security situation in Punjab and Karachi, where the search operation by the Rangers and Sindh Police was expedited.
The military claimed its intelligence-based operations in urban areas were also having an impact due to improved security. It also launched the Khyber-1 operation in Bara area of Khyber Agency in October 2014 and later the Khyber-2 in the Tirah Valley to complement the Zarb-e-Azb and chase down the militants fleeing North Waziristan. The Khyber-1 has concluded and the IDPs from Bara are being repatriated to their villages. The Khyber-2 is continuing even though the military has reached almost all important areas of the once remote and unadministered Tirah Valley.
A number of conclusions could be drawn from the Zarb-e-Azb operation. One, it is true that most of North Waziristan, or more than 80 per cent as the military has been claiming is now under the control of the security forces. The campaign to clear the militants from the remaining largely mountainous and forested territory would take time and require further sacrifices in terms of lives and resources.
Two, the most significant achievement of Zarb-e-Azb is denial of space to the local and foreign militants to plan and organise terrorist attacks not only in North Waziristan but also in rest of Pakistan and other countries.
Three, the blowback to Zarb-e-Azb by the militants wasn’t as big and severe as was being feared before the launch of the operation.
Four, the care and support for the IDPs and now their repatriation and rehabilitation along with the reconstruction of the damaged public and private property in North Waziristan should have been essential components and part of the planning for Zarb-e-Azb. Shifting focus of attention from these issues would dilute the achievements made on the military front.
And five, it is now obvious that coordination and cooperation with the Afghan government is necessary to deny space to militants on either side of the Durand Line border between the two countries. If there are disagreements between Islamabad and Kabul, the militants would flee to the other side after every military operation and pose security threat to both countries. The Afghan Taliban and their allies too are an important factor in this equation and bringing them into the political mainstream in Afghanistan through talks should be the aim of both the Afghan and Pakistani rulers to effectively bring the conflict to an end.