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Pakistan approves new operation to root out terrorism  

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of the Apex Committee on the National Action Plan in Islamabad on 22 June 2024. The committee approved launching a new nationwide counterterrorism campaign. (Pakistan's Prime Minister's Office)
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of the Apex Committee on the National Action Plan in Islamabad on 22 June 2024. The committee approved launching a new nationwide counterterrorism campaign. (Pakistan's Prime Minister's Office)

Pakistan’s top civilian and military leadership has decided to launch a new multi-faceted nationwide counterterrorism campaign amid the country’s deteriorating security situation.

A high-powered meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif gave the go ahead for operation “Azm-e-Istehkam,” or Resolve for Stability, to “combat the menaces of extremism and terrorism in a comprehensive and decisive manner,” said a statement issued by the prime minister’s office.

The announcement came as Pakistan faces near daily attacks targeting security personnel and amid mounting pressure from China to ensure the security of its workers. Several Chinese nationals were killed in an attack earlier this year.

“The fight against extremism and terrorism is Pakistan’s war and is absolutely essential for the nation’s survival and well-being,” the official statement said.

Along with an intensified military push, Azm-e-Istehkam will have a diplomatic push.

“In the politico-diplomatic domain, efforts will be intensified to curtail the operational space for terrorists through regional cooperation,” said the statement after the Apex Committee on the National Action Plan reviewed the ongoing counterterrorism campaign and internal security in the country.

Pakistan has a history of courts freeing terror attack suspects because of a lack of evidence. The new campaign aims to counter that through legislative actions.

“The renewed and full-blown kinetic efforts of the armed forces will be augmented by full support from all Law Enforcement Agencies, empowered by effective legislation to address legal voids that hinder effective prosecution of terrorism-related cases and award of exemplary punishments to them,” according to the statement.

Chinese concerns

The new counterterrorism operation comes as Islamabad attempts to convince Beijing it is taking the security of Chinese nationals extremely seriously.

“The forum also reviewed measures to ensure foolproof security for Chinese nationals in Pakistan.” Saturday’s statement said. “Following the Prime Minister’s approval, new Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs] were issued to relevant departments, which will enhance mechanisms for providing comprehensive security to Chinese citizens in Pakistan.”

This comes after Liu Jianchao, minister of the Central Committee of the International Department of the Communist Party of China, told a bilateral political forum in Islamabad last week that Pakistan’s poor security was a hurdle in bringing Chinese investment to the cash-strapped South Asian nation.

“As people often say confidence is more precious than gold, in the case of Pakistan, the primary factor shaking the confidence of Chinese investors is the security situation,” Liu told a gathering that representatives from major Pakistani political parties attended. It was held as part of the third meeting of the Pakistan-China Joint Consultative Mechanism of Political Parties on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The corridor, commonly known as CPEC, is a flagship project of Beijing’s global Belt and Road Initiative and focuses primarily on energy and infrastructure.

Five Chinese nationals working on the China-funded Dasu hydropower project and their Pakistani driver were killed in March when a suicide bomber rammed the convoy with an explosives-laden vehicle.

At least a dozen more Chinese nationals have been killed in Pakistan in targeted attacks in the last few years.

After the March attack, Pakistan ramped up efforts to enhance the protection of Chinese nationals, including the formation of a new security unit in the capital. A special military unit already exists for the protection of Chinese projects in Pakistan. It is supported by local law enforcement agencies.

Terrorism landscape

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal that maintains data on terror attacks in the region, Pakistan has witnessed over 300 terrorism-related deaths so far this year.

Dozens of Pakistani security personnel, including officials, have died in the first half of 2024 in militant attacks and counterterrorism operations. On Friday, five Pakistani soldiers were killed when an improvised explosive device blew up their vehicle in the Kurram tribal district near Afghanistan.

Last year, Pakistan recorded a six-year high in terrorism fatalities with most of the attacks concentrated in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces that border Afghanistan.

Islamabad blames the rise in terror attacks on Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan that it says has sanctuaries in neighboring Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban have rejected evidence of cross-border terror attacks provided by Pakistan as an effort to malign Kabul.

Reports gathered by the United Nations and research groups based in the United States indicate the Afghan Taliban have maintained ties with foreign militants.

Past operations

Pakistan launched massive military operations against terrorists between 2009 and 2017 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. While the operations managed to kill and flush thousands of militants to Afghanistan and dismantle their cells within Pakistan, they also caused a mass displacement of citizens and millions of dollars in damage to property and infrastructure.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has lately seen a wave of Jirga, or consultative public gatherings, where locals have expressed serious concerns over growing militant violence and frequent counterterrorism operations.

Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry told the media last month that security forces had conducted more than 13,000 intelligence-based operations this year, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.