• PM Office clarifies action meant to augment ongoing efforts by armed forces, won’t entail mass displacement
• Fazl, ANP criticise decision; Gandapur claims apex body did not discuss any ‘operation’
• Asif says parliament to be taken on board, terms apex committee decision consensual

ISLAMABAD/QUETTA / PESHAWAR: In a late-night move, the government clarified that the campaign to be launched under the banner of Azm-i-Istehkam would not be a kinetic large-scale military operation, nor would it entail the mass displacement of the local population.

The clarification came apparently in the wake of intense opposition criticism of the government’s plans to launch military action, ostensibly to safeguard against the rising threat of terrorist violence, without consulting parliament.

The plans for a reinvigorated and re-energised national counter-terrorism campaign, which were announced on Saturday, entailed augmenting the kinetic efforts of the armed forces with support from all law enforcement agencies, as well as effective legislation to address legal voids that hinder effective prosecution of terrorism-related cases.

But this was met by full throated criticism from opposition parties, including the PTI, JUI-Fazl and ANP — both inside parliament and outside — with the KP chief minister even denying that any such thing was discussed with him during the apex committee meeting last week.

In an apparent response to these misgivings, the statement issued by the PM Office pointed out that “previous kinetic operations were conducted to physically dislodge terrorists from their known locations which [became] no-go areas and compromised the writ of the state. These operations required mass displacement of the local population and systematic clearance of affected areas”.

As there are no such areas in the country any more and terrorists’ ability to carry out large-scale organised operations inside Pakistan had been “decisively degraded by earlier kinetic operations… no large-scale military operation is being contemplated where displacement of population will be required,” the statement said.

Azm-i-Istehkam was a “multi-domain, multi-agency, whole of the system national vision” for enduring stability in Pakistan, it said.

“It is meant to reinvigorate and re-energise the ongoing implementation of Revised National Action Plan, which was initiated after the national consensus across the political spectrum,” the statement said, adding that the proposed operation would “energise” intelligence-based operations to “decisively root out” terrorists, the crime-terror nexus, and violent extremism.

JUI-F, ANP oppose move

In the footsteps of the PTI, which made its stance clear during the National Assembly session on Sunday, other opposition parties such as the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and the Awami National Party (ANP) joined the chorus opposing the proposed operation, with the former saying such a move would further deteriorate the volatile situation in bordering regions.

 JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman addresses a press conference in Quetta, on Monday.—PPI
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman addresses a press conference in Quetta, on Monday.—PPI

In a press conference in Quetta earlier in the day, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl alluded to the plan to conduct the operation, saying the decision of the apex committee would make the country “weak”.

“The decisions made by individuals in the apex committee are weakening the country as at every level the uniformed people are sitting in the apex committees,” he said, claiming that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif did not have the power to take decisions.

Similar concerns were expressed by the ANP, which said that they would not support the move unless their reservations were addressed. In a statement issued by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa president Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the ANP said that the National Assembly, the Senate and the stakeholders should be taken on board.

The statement also asked on whose directions had a former intelligence chief held negotiations with militants. Mian Iftikhar stated that the situation had reached a point where people “do not believe in negotiations as well as operations against militants anymore”.

After negotiations, the militants took over and people became displaced and it was the same situation after military operations, it added.

He stated that only one point of the National Action Plan, the military courts, was implemented and questioned why were the rest of the 19 points not implemented.

“The militants’ masterminds are in Punjab which was mentioned in the National Action Plan. There are 70 banned organisations which resurfaced with different names. If [you need] to start [an operation], start from them,” the statement said, adding that there were reports about the military operation to be launched against militants in Upper Dir and Lower Dir districts.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, who defended the move during the National Assembly session on Sunday, said that the matter would be tabled before parliament in an in-camera session.

He said the outcome of the cabinet meeting on Saturday was not final and “it will go through the cabinet then it will be presented in the House and the House would be briefed”. He made these remarks on Dosra Rukh programme of Dawn News.

Khawaja Asif also claimed that KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur, whose party was against the proposed military campaign, participated in the discussion regarding the operation and the decision was taken with consensus. “He presented the points that he had prepared and after that, a consensus was reached,” the federal minister said.

Gandapur disowns

On the other hand, CM Gandapur told media outside Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi that the apex committee did not discuss anything about the Azm-i-Istehkam operation. He had arrived there to meet incarcerated PTI leader Imran Khan. Mr Gandapur said that only policy matters were discussed during the meeting, adding the law and order situation was discussed during the meeting and it was named as ‘Azm-i-Istehkam Pakistan’.

“The fact is that the law and order situation has improved during our government and we have strengthened CTD and other law enforcement agencies,” he claimed. The CM sought a meeting with the army chief and the ISI chief, saying he would be able to talk about the planned operation after that.

While replying to a question, Mr Gandapur said that he would be able to talk about the operation after getting a policy statement from the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR).

He also suggested holding a dialogue with the Afghan interim government.

Separately, KP Governor Faisal Karim Kundi accused CM Gandapur of silently acquiescing to the decision to launch operation Azm-i-Istehkam.

Governor Kundi, while visiting the Hamza Foundation, told media persons that the provincial government’s representative did not speak against the operation in the meeting, neither did he stage a walkout.

Mr Kundi said that he had suggested the provincial government hold a session of the KP Assembly on the security situation and to take members of the assembly into confidence, adding that he had also suggested a special meeting of the cabinet for a briefing on the prevailing law and order situation in the province.

Mr Kundi stated that the meeting [on law and order] should be held in southern districts. “The meeting should be held in areas with the volatile law and order situation and not in air-conditioned rooms,” he said and hoped that the provincial government would consider his suggestion.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2024

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