Pakistan's new army chief has launched a major crackdown on nationwide terrorism
Pakistan has been hit by a spate of bloody attacks
Pakistan’s military has announced a major new nationwide operation to deal with militancy in the country in the wake of a string of terrorist attacks.
The operation, called Radd-ul-Fasaad, which translates to ‘Elimination of Discord,’ has been launched to “eliminate the menace of terrorism,” according to a statement released by the military.
The announcement comes after a wave of bloody attacks has lead to mounting public criticism of the army and government.
At least eight people were killed and another 21 injured when an explosion occurred at a restaurant in the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, officials said.
Last week, another two bomb blasts, one in Sehwan and another in Lahore, left close to a 100 people dead and hundreds more injured.
According to retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, the operation is an attempt by the army chief to “dispel any impression that he is less capable than his predecessor.”
The fact there is a newly appointed army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, and a completely fresh set of senior officers in general headquarters has led to “militants taking advantage” of the vacuum created as the new command familiarizes itself with the security situation, Masood said.
The operation is the first since Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which began in the summer of 2014 in North Waziristan in Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas (FATA). Zarb-e-Azb came after the failure of peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
Radd-ul-Fasaad is being seen as a foray into the country’s urban centers, where militants have set up support networks that require dismantling.
Amir Rana, security analyst and director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, says this is a more “holistic” approach by the new chief and a shift from focusing on specific zones of the country.
The operation’s objectives include the presence of paramilitary troops in Punjab, Pakistan’s largest, most prosperous province and a known hotbed for militant networks – including ISIS, factions of the Pakistan Taliban and other sectarian outlets.
Punjab is the seat of Pakistan’s ruling party, the PMLN, which has been reluctant to relinquish control of the province’s security to the military.
This might prove to be problematic, according to defense analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi.
He says the military’s statement is “ambiguous” about its attempts to tackle militancy in Punjab, which could lead to “increased tension between the PMLN government and the army.”
The operation will also have ramifications for Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan.
Pakistan has squarely placed much of the blame for last week’s attacks on Afghanistan and responded by sealing the border between the two countries.
This impasse is likely to continue without much intervention from the United States with the “Trump administration currently not taking much interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan relations,” says Rana.
According to Masood, the operation will see an increase in intelligence sharing between the country’s different security forces, which will put the militants “on the defensive.”
However, he says this will not solve the problem of militancy in Pakistan.
“The ideological aspects are extremely important and yet they have not been properly addressed,” Masood told CNN.
In December 2014 more than 140 children were killed by militants in their school in Peshawar. This led to the government launching a National Action Plan (NAP) to counter militancy in the country, which, according to Masood, has been neglected and not implemented.
“If you genuinely want Pakistan to be cleansed of militancy than the militant ideology needs to be addressed vigorously in the country.”