Integrating Socioeconomic and Military Efforts: Pakistan’s Path to Peace

By Saima Afzal

Pakistan is a developing nation confronting numerous challenges, including political instability, socio-economic issues and the threat of terrorism. Pakistan’s top civilian and military leadership has initiated a comprehensive nationwide counterterrorism campaign in response to the country’s worsening security situation. On 22 June 2024, Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif chaired a meeting of Central Apex Committee of National Action Plan and approved the “Operation Azm-e-Istehkam” that marks a crucial step towards eradicating extremism and terrorism. The nation stands united in its determination to eliminate any threat to its sovereignty and security. In the political-diplomatic arena, efforts are being intensified to limit terrorists’ operational space through regional cooperation. This campaign is bolstered by socio-economic measures designed to address the genuine concerns of the people and foster an environment that discourages extremist tendencies.

A new military operation, Azm-e-Istehkam, or Resolve for Stability, has been launched to revitalize Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts amid a surge in militant violence from neighboring Afghanistan. The Shehbaz Sharif government announced that this operation would not be a large-scale kinetic campaign like Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which displaced many people. Instead, it will continue the ongoing intelligence-based operations, which will be further expedited with improved inter-agency coordination and cooperation. Azm-e-Istehkam comprises two major strategies, kinetic and diplomatic. The kinetic strategy focuses on dismantling terrorist networks through operational efforts. Meanwhile, the diplomatic strategy aims to exert pressure on the Taliban regime to cease harboring Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and to develop a regional approach.

In the past, Pakistan has launched significant military operations to effectively counter terrorism within its borders. One notable operation was Zarb-e-Azb, initiated in June 2014 in North Waziristan, aimed at eliminating terrorist strongholds, disrupting their networks, and restoring peace in the region. This operation was a crucial step in targeting militant groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and foreign fighters in the tribal areas. Another important operation, Radd-ul-Fasaad, launched in February 2017, focuses on eliminating the residual threat of terrorism across the country. Radd-ul-Fasaad targets terrorists, their support networks, financiers, and facilitators, as part of Pakistan’s broader strategy to ensure the long-term eradication of terrorism and create a secure environment for its citizens. These military operations, along with other counter-terrorism measures like the National Action Plan and international cooperation, demonstrate Pakistan’s comprehensive commitment to combating terrorism. Through targeted operations, Pakistan aims to root out extremism, ensure national security, and promote peace and stability in the region.

Although Pakistan has made significant efforts to eradicate terrorism from its territory by eliminating terrorists’ hideouts through operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, some terrorists managed to flee to the neighboring state of Afghanistan. These terrorists are now organized and united, aiming to undermine Pakistan’s security and development through terrorist attacks. Most of these attacks have occurred in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan in recent years and were carried out from Afghan soil. Hostile states are benefiting from this insecurity. Pakistan advocates for the peaceful repatriation of Afghan refugees to their homeland, urging them to contribute constructively to their state’s development and prosperity. Pakistan believes that a strong and prosperous Afghanistan is beneficial not only for the South Asian region but also for the world. Unfortunately, Afghan soil has been used for terrorist activities against neighboring states. It is claimed that the Indian intelligence agency RAW and the Afghan intelligence organization NDS jointly conduct terrorist activities in Pakistan. Terrorist groups like TTP and BLA are united in their efforts to disrupt Pakistan’s security and challenge the writ of the state. However, Pakistan has not received any cooperation from the Afghan Taliban regarding cross-border terrorism. These terrorists are overtly destroying the peace of the region.

Overall, a multi-faceted approach is essential in effectively countering terrorism in Pakistan. The presence of extremist ideologies and radicalization within certain segments of society poses a challenge. Addressing the root causes of radicalization through education, community engagement, and socio-economic development is essential to prevent the spread of extremist views and ideologies. Pakistan needs to address terrorism through a comprehensive approach that includes military, legislative, international, and social measures. A united front involving all institutions military, law enforcement, intelligence, judiciary, and government bodies is essential. Coordination and cooperation among these entities, along with the unity of political parties with the military, enhance the effectiveness of counter-terrorism efforts. This collective determination and shared commitment to national security and stability aim to create a safer and more secure environment for the country and its people.

In a nutshell, operation Azm-e-Istehkam, much like previous efforts, is unlikely to secure lasting peace unless Pakistan adopts a more holistic and integrated approach. The military alone cannot achieve victory in this conflict; true success requires the support of socioeconomic development, strong legal frameworks, political unity, and steadfast public backing. The people of Pakistan are determined to eliminate terrorism and extremism from their society. By collaborating with relevant stakeholders, this goal is attainable. However, the right actions must be taken at the right time and in the right direction, or all efforts will be in vain.

Saima Afzal
Saima Afzal

The author is a Research Scholar and Analyst; M. Phil in Peace and Conflict Studies from National Defence University Islamabad, Pakistan. Email: sarahamidkhan21@gmail.com

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