ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has launched its first ever nationwide military operation “to eradicate the threat of terrorism,” in response to a recent surge in suicide bombings and militant attacks that killed scores of people in the country.
Army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor said the offensive will also cover the most populous province, Punjab, which is seen as a recruiting ground for extremist groups fighting the state and helping insurgents in Afghanistan as well as in the India-ruled portion of the disputed Kashmir region.
“(The) operation aims at indiscriminately eliminating residual latent threat of terrorism, consolidating gains of operations made thus far and further ensuring security of the borders,” a military statement quoted Ghafoor as explaining.
Punjab a powerful province
Punjab is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's native province and political stronghold where some of the country's major Islamic parties are also headquartered. These religious groups have long opposed calls from secular and liberal parties, for undertaking security operations in the province.
Sharif's ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N party has long relied on support from Islamic parties in wining national elections and fears of losing the crucial base are also cited among factors that have hampered army operations in Punjab.
Although major Islamic parties are not linked to extremist violence in Pakistan, critics and even officials have at times admitted there are institutions among tens of thousands of seminaries the religious groups are running in the province, which are promoting sectarian hatred and producing students with militant mindsets.
Locating weapons a priority
These young men, observers believe, often end up joining ranks of violent groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, commonly known as Pakistani Taliban, waging a bloody insurgency against the state.
TTP has killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis in its decade long insurgency. But one of its offshoots, Jamaat-Ul-Ahrar, has claimed responsibility for most of the terrorist attacks Pakistan has experienced within the past two weeks.
General Ghafoor said that “countrywide de-weaponization and explosive control are additional goals of the operation the military launched Wednesday.
Pakistani troops have also been engaged since June 2014, in major ground and air offensives against TTP bases in volatile semi-autonomous tribal areas near the Afghan border.
Militant violence reduced
The military says it has killed thousands of militants, destroyed their terrorist infrastructure and cleared most of the border region, leading to a significant reduction in years of deadly militant violence in Pakistan.
But Afghan and American military commanders, while acknowledging Pakistan's counterterrorism successes, maintain the security operations have spared militants linked to the Afghan Taliban and the notorious Haqqani network involved in deadly attacks in Afghanistan.
Pakistani intelligence agencies are accused of using some of the home-grown militant organizations for fueling Muslim insurgency in Kashmir and helping the Afghan Taliban in its violent campaign against the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
Pakistani officials dismiss the assertions and say security operations in tribal areas have targeted all terrorist organizations. Islamabad vows it does not allow its soil to be used against any country.