By Amjad Ali
Islamabad, June 20 (IANS/EFE) The operation Zarb-e-Azb (Sharp and Cutting) launched against the Taliban a year ago in western Pakistan has killed nearly 3,000 alleged insurgents. It has also caused a decrease in terrorist attacks, while several thousand families have been displaced.
For a year, Pakistan has bombarded its North Waziristan province, a region traditionally outside the control of the state, in what has been the second large scale military operation in the country in recent years.
In contrast to an earlier army operation in South Waziristan in 2009, this time bombings have been conducted almost daily.
The army sees the results as positive while nobody seems certain as to when the problems will get resolved.
“I believe we have been successful in regaining control over the region,” military analyst Talat Masood told Efe news agency, stressing that the aim was “to establish state’s control and do away with the Taliban who have completely occupied the area”.
According to the army’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), since the operation began on June 14, 2014, 2,763 “terrorists” have died, 837 shelters have been destroyed and 253 tonnes of explosives have been recovered.
ISPR said that 9,000 operations based on intelligence have been executed, in which thousands of “terrorists” and “accomplices” have been detained, and 218 of the most radical and fundamentalist terrorists have been killed.
It added that thousands of arms and ammunition have been recovered, communication infrastructures of insurgents have been tapped and destroyed, and their havens cleared.
At least 347 soldiers have lost their lives in the operations, according to a recount which could not be verified by independent sources, given that the press is not permitted access to the region.
“The operation is going well. A large part of the area has been cleared and terrorist networks have been affected,” Athar Abbas, former major general and ISPR’s ex-director general, told the Spanish news agency EFE.
“The operation does not have a time-limit,” he added.
Bigger localities like Miranshah, Mirali, Dattakhel, Boya and Degan, considered fiefdom of insurgents, have been cleared but certain regions along the Afghanistan border still remain under the control of the Taliban.
However, after 27 centers that produced ammunition, rockets and explosives for the insurgents were destroyed, the Taliban’s capacity to carry out terrorist attacks appears to have diminished.
Insurgent attacks in Pakistan has fallen to its lowest in six years, according to Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) which tracks insurgent activity in Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia.
PICSS recorded that before Zarb-e-Azb, insurgent attacks had shot up to a maximum of 154 attacks per month, which now has fallen to 71, a drop of more than 50 percent.
However, there has been a severe impact on the civilian population.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 102,000 families have been displaced by the conflict, and they now have to return to a region whose infrastructure needs to be rebuilt.
“So far, 1,600 families have voluntarily returned to the areas where evacuation orders have been withdrawn,” UNHCR official Hussain Changaiz told EFE.
“We don’t know exactly when the authorities will withdraw (evacuation orders) for other regions. Their plan is to get up to 30,000 families to return by the end of the year,” he added.
Besides operation Zarb-e-Azb, there is an intelligence operation underway in most of the important cities in the southern province of Punjab, where fundamentalist and radical organisations exist.