Army engagement in Waziristan to last until 2019

Source:  Tribune Published in Defence on Friday, September 04, 2015

ISLAMABAD: As part of a fresh strategy to prevent incursion of supporters of Taliban and Islamic State through the Afghan border, Pakistan’s armed forces will continue their war against militants in the tribal areas of North Waziristan and South Waziristan until 2019.

The civilian and military leadership have also decided to use the military as a backup force beyond 2019 in all the volatile areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as well as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, senior military officials informed the National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence on Thursday.

“We shall continue fighting against militants in the north-west,” a committee member quoted a military officer as saying. “We fear incursion of militants having links with Taliban and Da’ish from the other (Afghan) side of the border.”

MNA Rohail Asghar of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz was chairing an in-camera meeting in which senior officers of the military and the defence and interior ministries briefed the lawmakers on the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

“Operation against militants in North Waziristan, particularly in Shawal Valley, is quite multifaceted,” a panel member told The Express Tribune. “Military officers said the troops’ stay in this region could extend beyond 2019.”

He quoted the committee chairman as saying that terrorists working for Da’ish in Afghanistan posed a great threat to Pakistan. “We have to take pre-emptive measures to avert this looming threat.”

Even when Zarb-e-Azb concludes, the border should not be left open, the member quoted Asghar as saying. “The army will have to stay in the north at all costs.”

More than 3,400 terrorists have been killed and around 100 hideouts and arms factories destroyed since last June, officials informed the NA panel. Over 300 military personnel have sacrificed their lives since then, they added.

Last month the Senate Defence Committee, headed by Mushahid Hussain, was informed by military officers that since 9/11 the Pakistan Army had lost 4,354 soldiers and officers, while 14,552 have been wounded.

They said that this year alone, as a result of successful civil-military coordination, there were almost 1,100 intelligence-based operations that resulted in capture of terrorists and saving of innocent civilians’ lives.

During Thursday’s proceedings the NA committee, which passed a resolution condemning Indian aggression on the border, was also informed that 40,000 of the total 1.8 million temporarily displaced persons had returned home.

The entire process of repatriation would require approximately Rs80 billion, of which the federal government has allocated Rs13 billion, disclosed the officials.

MNA Asghar told The Express Tribune that the military would later announce the exact time frame of wrapping up Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

His committee, however, recommended the military to extend its stay in the tribal areas as a backup force even after the operation ends.

The military has stepped up operations in the deeply forested ravines of Shawal Valley, which straddles the Pakistani region of North and South Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan, said the MNA.

“More than 60,000 intelligence-based operations were conducted across the country and several terrorist networks busted after the Peshawar Army Public School attack.”

The NA panel has also recommended early rehabilitation of all the TDPs, he added. “And the authorities must undertake it as a key task.”