Having fled military Operation Zarb-e-Azb the militants, both local and foreigner, took refuge in the high altitude Shawal Valley of North Waziristan. Thick forest, treacherous terrain and deep ravines it has everything they needed to remain in business of fighting the forces.
But that was not to be – with rest of North Waziristan cleared of militancy the Shawal Valley couldn’t be left in control of militants to be used as a launching pad for forays into the cleared areas. After a heavy pounding from air to soften the targets a ground offensive has been launched, and for all the reasons it is going to be very tough.
The Shawal Valley is the last redoubt of militants and they would spare nothing to fight back. And for the forces the battle for Shawal has to be won whatever it costs, because without taking it back from the militants the Operation Zarb-e-Azb remains incomplete.
Obviously there are heavy battlefield casualties; the military losses include death of Lieutenant Colonel Faisal Malik who embraced martyrdom along with a soldier in a clash with militants.
The militants’ losses are reported to be in many scores. Located as it is on border with Afghanistan the control of Shawal Valley is expected to shut the back door on the anti-Pakistan militants who keep moving in and out at will fomenting trouble in the tribal areas.
A day before this clash, the Afghanistan-based terrorists had launched a rocket attack on a Pakistani checkpost killing four soldiers. Given probability of militants fleeing the military action in Shawal Valley to seek shelter in adjoining region of Afghanistan the government in Kabul should undertake a matching military action on its side.
Since the licence to crisscross international border is one of the militants’ potent weapons it is essential that appropriate steps are taken to enforce strict border control.
The nationwide campaign against militants, both enemy agents and religious fanatics, has entered the endgame lap, and it is succeeding. According to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali, the networks of terrorists have been dismantled and presently no terrorist group is operating from the soil of Pakistan.
In Karachi, he said, a 70 percent improvement has been recorded. However, he did caution that next eight or nine months are critical given that action against sectarianism and extremism is going to be intensified. Also he did go some distance to defend the efficacy of somewhat controversial National Action Plan (NAP), saying it has greatly helped improve the law and order situation in the country. As many as 1,444 terror attacks took place in 2006; these spiked to 1,936 in 2009.
The number of such attacks came down to 695 in 2015 thanks to the NAP, the minister said. Earlier, during the day Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took a tough line against private militias (read militant wings of political parties) and sectarian elements (read religious seminaries).
Not that focus on foreign-funded terrorism has diffused throughout the country, but some of the recent incidents of terrorism tend to suggest that religious extremism happens to be the most potent threat to public peace in the country. The religious political parties had succeeded in somewhat blunting the bite of the National Action Plan, but not anymore.
Likewise, the political parties, too, are being made to accept that they should jettison their militant wings and stand miles away from criminals and terrorists who enjoyed their patronage. Befittingly enough, as the prime minister gave audience to an MQM delegation asking its members to return to their seats in elected houses and air their grievances from there, he also made it loud and clear that “We cannot even think of taking any step back as far as Karachi operation is concerned”.
The civilian government and military leadership are undoubtedly on the same page and reading from the same paragraph.