Chairing a high-level security meeting in Lahore on Wednesday (22 February) attended by all the Corps Commanders in the Punjab, the COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa announced the launching of Raadul-Fasaad (elimination of violence). Focused in the Punjab this offensive by the Pakistan Army constitutes the decisive phase of countering militants of the terrorist-kind. Aimed at “indiscriminately” tackling terrorism “all over the country”, consolidating gains made and ensuring security of the borders, this operation will include the Air Force, Pakistan Navy, Civil Armed Forces and other security/law enforcing agencies participating and providing close support. The major objective is to go after the financiers and facilitators who work behind-the-scene providing funds, sanctuary, weapons, etc to terrorists.
To quote my article “Organised Crime Promotes Terrorism” of July 17, 2015, “Terrorists are motivated by ideology and criminals by greed, yet cooperation is growing for mutual benefit. Terrorist groups need arms and money, “Organized Crime” provides illegal trafficking of arms, drugs and human beings, as well as money laundering and smugglers operating across countries and regions. Terrorism can never function without “Organized Crime”, illicit operations like drugs trade and criminal activity render militant cells more vulnerable to detection.” “Organized crime” cannot function without corruption. This is happening in the Punjab right under the nose of the government and in some places, with their collusion. To quote further “Terrorist organisations are able to function by collaborating with common criminals with special skills or access to networks or criminal opportunities. Criminal groups sometimes turn ideological over time. It may be impossible to destroy the logistical network supporting terrorist groups without striking major blows at supporting criminal networks.” Unquote
The intelligence-based kinetic operation, “Operation Zarb-e-Azb” almost cleansed North Waziristan of terrorist elements. Concurrently the Rangers operation in Karachi successfully registered a significant drop in terrorist and criminal activities despite the Sindh government being reluctant to allow them to operate with full police powers. The Sindh Government’s filibustering in extending the period of powers given to the Rangers blatantly exposed the nexus between corruption, organized crime and terrorism. Sindh’s Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah took issue with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Investigating Authority (FIA) targetting the corrupt in Sindh. He threatened to remove the Rangers for targetting the corrupt with links to terrorism.
My article “Countering Terrorism” of December 17, 2105 said, “We have blurred the distinction between religion and nationalism. We adopted a “divide and rule” policy within Pakistan politics. Those who incite ethnic and/or sectarian violence should also receive the maximum penalty. Those directly connected to the perpetrators and those giving indirect assistance to them must be targeted, with close monitoring of funds ostensibly meant for charity. Terrorist funding comes through foreign exchange dealers and “havalas”, only electronic processing through scheduled banks that will give both origin and rampant without doubt will stop the flow”. Unquote. Each and every one who is found to be involved in militancy and terrorist activities, directly or indirectly, irrespective of his/her status, must be apprehended and given punishment that should serve as an example to others as well as a deterrent. Terrorism can only be eliminated by targetting the nexus between politicians, corruption and organised crime. Targetting corruption with all its manifestations includes financial misdoings, misuse of authority, cheating the public at large, money-laundering, breach of trust vested in various positions and living beyond legitimate known means of income, tax evasion.
Raadul-Fasaad entails “conduct of Broad Spectrum Security/Counter Terrorism (CT) operations by Rangers in Punjab, continuation of ongoing operations across the country and focus on more effective border security management,” the communiqué said. “Countrywide de-weaponisation and explosive control are additional cardinals of the effort.” Unquote. This decisive battle in the Punjab should have been initiated many years ago, Gen Raheel Sharif left this as an unfinished agenda. After the March 27, 2016 Easter Sunday bomb attack in Lahore, he did order a swift counter-terror operation throughout Punjab conducted by the Army there were few and were not publicized the early enthusiasm soon faded away. Qamar Bajwa is ensuring that the people’s wishes for accountability are finally going to be answered, the incumbent in the COAS choice must listen to the conscience of the men he commands. Government officials with criminals and militants in the Punjab is an open secret, colliding a number of militant groups residing in great comfort have been given the liberty of moving freely and even collecting donations, etc. The Punjab government was disinclined to allow anyone go after the militants making up a percentage of their vote banks in the province, the irony is that they blamed this on the ISI. With the political will to move against these 60 or so banned groups elements non-existent, all the efforts by the Army were blocked by vested political interest. Influential political elements in the Punjab depend upon them for electability, they in turn enforces their version of the “rule of law” to keep the other voters in line. Shahbaz Sharif’s attempt to convey the impression that the Punjab is militant free is not based on facts.
To his credit Gen Bajwa has rightfully re-emphasized the focus on this threat in the Punjab. Taking over as COAS less than 90 days ago he has acted decisively in the best interests of the nation. Putting his core team in place, his objectives appear determined to cleanse up Pakistan of unwanted elements, including those who aid and abet militancy. Those vehemently opposed will certainly render political interference to thwart his plans but for once the battle lines have been made very clear. There is no ambiguity that this operation covers the Punjab but is not confined to the Punjab alone. Operation Raadul Fasaad, will have to focus without political interference where most of the extremist and militant elements are concentrated to be effective. The problem is best illustrated by the pathetic performance of the NAB and FIA Chiefs in the Supreme Court recently where their lack of action against established corruption clearly had political compulsions.
Gen. Qamar Javed is belatedly finding out that maintaining a low profile can be counter-productive as perception is the reality. You must do the right thing but in this age of electronic images you have to be seen doing it.
The COAS has lived up to our expectations in being decisive. Raadul Fasaad spells out that there will be no vacillation in taking the national objective to eliminate terrorism to its logical conclusion. There may be a marked difference in style to his predecessor but there is certainly increased depth in Qamar Javed Bajwa’s substance and intent.
The writer is a defence and security analyst.