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With the deployment of Pakistan Rangers in Punjab, the operation against terrorists and their facilitators has entered a new phase. The recent wave in attacks across the country was something which huddled civil-military leadership on chalking out a new strategy to counter the menace of terrorism. Ever since the announcement of Operation Raad-ul-Fasaad (elimination of discord), paramilitary forces, in collaboration with Punjab’s Counter terrorism Department (CTD), have conducted some 200 combing operations within the province. Seminaries, hostels, shops and residential areas were searched and 600 people were arrested that included Afghans as well.
While this operation was not really planned overnight and its blue prints were in place since former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif’s tenure, the big question remains: Why now? Operation Zarb-e-Azbhad some great successes with follow up operations such as Khyber 1 and Kinetic acting as refining phases. There must have been some flaw left out somewhere in between that led to the announcement of Raad-ul-Fasaad, widely considered to be an extension of its key predecessor. Was the flaw on part of civilian or military leadership? It looks like the civilians had something to do with it, as the much-hyped National Action Plan (NAP) post-APS attack was not implemented in letter and spirit. Bureaucratic hurdles and lack of ownership by key players led to discord in NAP. Notorious individuals such as Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi and Aurangzeb Farooqi still roamed freely despite evidence of their involvement in creating sectarian disharmony. No doubt the role of Afghan and Indian intelligence was well-established in fueling proxy warfare but the facilitators of local sectarian strife were overlooked by a large margin.
NAP is an extremely important strategy to counter terrorism and the government has largely failed even after the military leadership’s repeated requests. Back in Summer 2015, the encounter of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s high profile terrorist Malik Ishaq was something planned by the Punjab Government. It was trying to give a message that civilians too can handle things well but what after? Nothing. NAP went down the flush from Karachi to Khyber and even the much-promised National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) could not live up to its hype. Inter-provincial harmony is must to eradicate the menace of terrorism and sectarianism from its roots as the country’s battle has entered a decisive phase.