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Operation “Azm-e-Istahkam”: Pakistan’s Unflinching Resolve Against Terrorism

In a bid to uproot the menace of terrorism from the country, Prime Minister of Pakistan has approved Operation “Azm-e-Istahkam” on June 22, 2024, during Apex Committee Meeting of National Action Plan (NAP). Announcement of this operation indicates an unflinching resolve to fight terrorism, in all its forms and manifestation, by adopting an integrated wholesome approach. Three critical dimensions related to this operation will be explored in this article, which are Chinese apprehensions on security situation in Pakistan, how religious fanaticism and political bigotry be curbed and measures to deal with digital terrorism rampant at the social media platforms.  

Safeguarding CPEC: Addressing Chinese Concerns

Being strategic partner of Pakistan, China has invested heavily in development of CPEC related infrastructure. Of late however, incessant terror attacks on Chinese interests have stirred some controversy. It is being feared that terrorist groups will undertake targeted attacks on Chinese citizens and projects, thus hampering bilateral cooperation and regional development. From the start of CPEC in 2015 till to date, reportedly more than 60 Chinese nationals have lost their lives in different terror incidents. As many as
15 attacks have been recorded in year 2023 against CPEC personnel or projects, portraying that Chinese investments are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Government of Pakistan has raised security budget for CPEC by 20% within last two years to improve the protective measures. All such fears are being solaced through initiation of Operation “Azm-e-Istahkam”, aimed at protecting foreign individuals and assets. In terms of security, this aims at improving intelligence capacities and better-equipping LEAs so that terrorists can be fought with efficiently. Furthermore, the measures taken by Pakistan to counter the support for terrorist organizations, including cooperation with countries like Qatar and the UAE, demonstrate the country’s willingness to meet international expectations. Enhancing the security at the borders and using modern monitoring systems will add more layers of security to CPEC projects besides obviating concerns of foreign investors.

Breaking the Cycle: Combatting the Mob Lynching Mentality

Another negative aspect that has been observed in the past is the mob justice culture in Pakistan, where people take law in their own hands more often than not. This mentality is rooted in distrust in the legal system and a cultural propensity for vigilante justice. In 2023, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recorded 17 cases of mob lynching, in which 34 people were killed. A poll conducted in 2022 reveals that 45% of the participants do not believe that the legal system can provide justice promptly and equally. The tragic events which recently happened in Madain/ Swat and Sialkot/ Punjab underscore the gravity of the situation. In Swat, a Pakistani national was beaten to death by a mob before he could be produced before the court on allegations of blasphemy. This also highlights the need to incorporate mass awareness in society besides introducing the legal changes. The purpose of “Azm-e-Istahkam” is to shun complacency and revive people’s faith in judiciary and writ of law.  Legal changes are intended to guarantee speedy and efficient trials besides limiting public tendency to take the law into their hands. This operation aims to establish a more effective and clear legal systems, seen through the use of new forensic facilities and computerized records. The public will be informed on the need to follow the law and the consequences of taking the law into their hands through a
well-crafted awareness campaign.

Battling a New Frontier: Digital Terrorism

The primacy of social media in paddling narratives, cannot be over emphasized. Contrarily, terrorism has also adapted to technological age and innovation. Terror groups are using social media platforms to recruit, indoctrinate and employ their foot soldiers.  In 2023, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) prepared a report, stating that more than 3,000 social media profiles are associated with extremism. Furthermore, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) stated that 2022 has witnessed a 25% rise in the cases of online radicalization, as compared to the previous year. The use of social media further compounds the problem proliferating fake news and hate speech. According to the data provided by Police, it arrested 150 people for the dissemination of terrorist propaganda through the internet. Azm-e-Istahkam operation understands the importance of fighting digital terrorism. With the help of modern technologies for tracking mobile signals and analyzing the collected data, Police can now detain people, who promote extremism. Furthermore, raising awareness remains to be quintessential in ensuring that the citizens understand the risks of radicalization through the internet and are ready to report any suspicious activities. One of the focus areas is to counter the indoctrination of hatred in some madrassas. Instilling fear therefore, remains important. The scourge of terrorism is to be fought indiscriminately. Public can help stop extremism both in the physical world and the digital realm. The adoption of the contemporary forensic and tracking technologies will guarantee that the people involved in digital terrorism are apprehended.

Oppositional Backlash: Oppositional Scrutiny

The approval for Operation Azm-e-Istehkam was accorded after all stakeholders concurred and sat together to determine its efficacy. In his recent speech, opposition leader, has raised questions about impending operation without approval of Parliament, It is being claimed that in any major national security situation, operations are not a wise proposition. This viewpoint elucidates the hindrance in national integration besides compromising on national security of Pakistan. In a recent development on June 23, 2024, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has voiced staunch opposition within Parliament against any military operation that lacks Parliamentary approval, asserting that no Apex Committee of NAP can supersede authority of the Parliament. PTI Chairman Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, speaking in Islamabad, emphasized that the “Azm-e-Istahkam” operation against terrorism had been approved by the National Action Plan’s Apex Committee. He stressed the importance of military leadership briefing Parliament before initiating any operation, highlighting past precedents where parliamentary confidence was sought beforehand. Barrister Gohar Ali Khan underscored, “Regardless of the composition or membership of any Apex Committee, it cannot hold authority above Parliament.” He further insisted, “Our demand is that no operation commences without parliamentary confidence.”

Conclusion

Operation “Azm-e-Istahkam” represents a holistic approach to combating terrorism in Pakistan. By addressing Chinese concerns, tackling the mob lynching mentality, and combating digital terrorism, the operation aims to create a secure and stable environment. The success of this initiative depends on the collective efforts of the Government, LEAs, international partners, and the general public. If executed effectively, Operation “Azm-e-Istahkam” could mark a turning point in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and pave the way for a more secure and prosperous future.

Muskan Moazzam

Muskan Moazzam is currently pursuing MPhil in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid e Azam University, Islamabad.

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