Balancing Security and Civilians: Will Azm-i-Istehkam Avoid Past Mistakes?

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced the launch of Operation Azm-i-Istehkam, raising concerns among opposition political parties, particularly those with a presence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). This region has borne the brunt of terrorism, and local communities fear a resurgence of violence and displacement similar to previous military campaigns.

In response to these concerns, the administration sought to clarify its position on Monday. A statement from the Prime Minister's Office assured that no large-scale displacement would occur and described the operation as primarily a 'mopping up' exercise to eliminate the remnants of militant groups. This reassurance aims to address the fears of the local population while emphasizing the necessity of neutralizing the terrorist threat.

The need to address militancy in KP is undeniable. Despite numerous military operations, militant groups have consistently regrouped, posing a persistent threat to security. Therefore, for Operation Azm-i-Istehkam to succeed, it is crucial to learn from past operations and address any gaps that allowed militants to resurface.

One significant factor influencing the operation is China's concern over security in Pakistan. Ensuring stability is vital not only for the safety of local communities but also for maintaining strong international relations. However, the government must strike a balance between decisive action against terrorists and minimizing disruption to civilian lives.

The state appears to recognize this need for balance. The recent PMO statement reflects a commitment to conducting operations with minimal impact on the population. The government must continue to involve all stakeholders, including political forces, to garner support and ensure transparency. While operational details remain confidential, sensitive information can be shared with lawmakers in private sessions to build trust and consensus.

The importance of specialized counter-terrorism units cannot be overstated. Recent attacks, such as the one in Kurram that resulted in the loss of five soldiers, underscore the need for dedicated forces trained to handle asymmetric threats. In urban areas, police counter-terrorism departments should lead efforts to dismantle terrorist networks.

A parallel diplomatic effort is also necessary. Pakistan must persist in communicating with the Afghan Taliban to prevent their territory from being used by groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) against Pakistan. This diplomatic pressure should complement domestic counter-terrorism operations.

Furthermore, combating extremism is as crucial as military action. The support structures enabling terrorist groups must be dismantled to prevent them from reemerging under different names. This dual approach, targeting both militancy and extremism, is essential for achieving lasting peace in Pakistan.

Operation Azm-i-Istehkam represents a critical step in Pakistan's ongoing fight against terrorism. By learning from past experiences, involving all stakeholders, and balancing security measures with the well-being of local communities, the government aims to create a safer and more stable future for KP and the entire nation. As the operation unfolds, continuous efforts and vigilance will be required to ensure its success and the long-term stability of the region.

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