• In first meeting chaired by new army chief, commanders vow to ‘act against terrorists without distinction’
• Restructuring, re-deployments said to be on the table amid talk of austerity measures

ISLAMABAD: The army on Wednesday signalled a strong response to the country’s escalating terrorism problem.

The corps commanders at their monthly conference at the General Headquarters — the first after the change of command last month, according to ISPR, “resol­ved to fight against terrorists without any distinction and eliminate this menace as per the aspirations of the people of Pakistan”.

The two-day conference, which began on Tuesday, was chaired by Chief of Army Staff Gen Syed Asim Munir.

The media statement indicated that the focus of the discussion remained largely on the resurgence of terrorism in the country, even though the commanders also undertook a “review of professional and organisational matters of the Army”.

The surge in terrorism incidents in Khyber-Pakh­tun­khwa and Balochistan provinces and more importantly the botched suicide bombing attempt in Islamabad in which a policeman lost his life last Friday underscore the growing problem of militant violence, which has further complicated the challenges of political instability and economic meltdown.

In the past few months, over a hundred attacks have been claimed by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose leadership has been operating from Afghanis­­tan. These attacks have mostly targeted the law enforcement agencies.

While the most significant threat is coming from TTP, at the same time insurgents in Balochistan have also stepped up their attacks. They have, moreover, formed a nexus with TTP, making the problem even more complex.

This nexus is being seen as one of the reasons why TTP has been able to stage so many attacks in Balochistan.

Amid indicators that the terrorist threat may increase next year, analysts have been criticising the military for not coming up with a comprehensive strategy to counter it.

The brief ISPR statement did not specifically mention if some new kinetic operation had been okayed, but its tone and almost single focus on the terrorism threat put across the message that counter-terrorism would be the new leadership’s top priority.

Gen Munir had soon after taking over the command visited the western border and had reiterated the pledge to end the menace of terrorism at all costs, while emphasising that no one will be allowed to spoil the hard earned peace.

The new army chief’s messaging has been less through words and more through optics. His resolve to fight back the terrorists was clear from a recent picture of sombre, but firm-looking Gen Munir carrying the coffin of Capt Fahd Khan along with Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza. Capt Fahd was martyred over the weekend in an IED blast in Kahan, Balochistan.

The reference to “review of professional and organisational matters” suggested that the top brass could have considered restructuring and redeployments especially in midst of reports that certain austerity measures were being planned.

Besides, there were some crucial issues about which the statement was completely silent.

The corps commanders conference happened in the backdrop of intensifying economic crisis, but there was no mention of the economic security that remained a major concern during Gen Munir’s predecessor’s tenure.

As the Army says it has decided to remain out of governance and political matters, it is plausible that the generals did not discuss economy in deference of that policy decision. Interestingly, the conference happened as rumours about a meeting for discussing the possibility of installation of a technocrats’ government for fixing the economy made rounds.

Similarly, there was nothing on the review of external and regional security in the media statement especially relating to India and Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2022

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