Operation Raddul Fasaad, as a final showdown, has brought the war against militants to the centres of the urban population. The campaign has been launched following the cleansing of the peripheries in the tribal areas and adjoining districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through long-drawn hard-fought military actions.
Besides the elimination of all terrorist threats from the country – both covert and overt – the campaign also aims to purge society of all weapons and secure the borders, particularly the western borders with Afghanistan.
Coupled with ‘consolidating the gains of all past/present military operations against militants’ Operation Raddul Fasaad is said to be the culmination of a series of military offensives – started with the launch of Operation Rah-e-Rast against terrorists and their sanctuaries in Swat Valley in May 2009.
Of all the military offensives, Operation Rah-e-Rast – also known as the second battle of Swat – was the first organised campaign against militants. It was one of the most difficult military offensives as the militants had taken physical control of Swat Valley following a peace deal with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. The campaign displaced almost 2.5 million people. However, within a span of three months, the entire valley was not only cleared and handed over to the civilian administration, but the displaced population was also rehabilitated. In military parlance, it was successful because the forces managed to purge the region of militants and transferred authority to the civilian administration.
Those in the know believe that Operation Raddul Fasaad is not a knee-jerk reaction to the fresh wave of terror but part of a grand military strategy prepared at the time of General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. The final decision to purge the entire society of militants was taken because the state of affairs had deteriorated to a level where extremists were ruling the streets and even security personnel were unable to move freely in uniform. However, it was decided that the process would be gradual – clearing the crust of the earth first and then cleansing the underground sanctuaries of terrorists and handlers in urban areas, particularly in Punjab.
The campaign can be called a final showdown because once the direct or latent terrorist threats are eliminated, the next phase will be definitely target sectarian and jihadi extremist organisations. These organisations are instrumental in radicalising society and create a bad name for the country as they are accused of being involved in terrorist acts abroad. Reports also suggest that a majority of militants who joined terrorists or jihadi organisations were once part of different sectarian organisations.
Formulating this strategy of gradually eliminating the hydra-headed monster of militancy and those who harness extremism, the military chose to apply the famous ‘Rice Bowl Theory’ – a strategy conceived by Chandragupta Maurya. Back in 300 BC, Maurya defeat the most powerful armies of Dhana Nanda by applying this strategy. Nanda was the most powerful ruler of the Subcontinent whose forces had even defeated the militaries of Alexander the Great.
By starting from the peripheries in the tribal belt and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and denying physical spaces to militants in these areas, the security forces are now poised to shrink the space for extremism in major urban centres. However, the campaign will be declared successful in the real sense if it focuses indiscriminately on sectarian organisations and other extremist religious outfits, irrespective of their political linkages. This could be possible in the next phase.
Operation Raddul Fasaad is not going to be an easy affair. It may take a year or more. The operation is being carried out on a much wider scale – possibly the entire country. The security forces have to go deep and clear underground sanctuaries, a difficult and complicated undertaking.
Earlier military offensives were limited to certain geographical areas. There was an option to evacuate the entire population, isolate terrorists and their sanctuaries and freely use artillery, gunships, helicopters or jet fighters. Such options will not be available during Operation Raddul Fasaad. It covers the entire urban centres of the country, with no options of using artillery, gunships helicopters or jet fighters. It is equally difficult to isolate terrorists by evacuating the population. Operation Raddul Fasaad will no doubt be a most complicated battle as the battleground lies deep in populated centres. However, failure is not an option in this regard and is, in many ways, a test for the new military leadership.
Gen Kayani has to his credit a string of tough military offensives to purge Swat Valley, Mohmand, Bajaur and South Waziristan agencies. Gen Raheel Sharif took the war against militancy to the most difficult terrains and heavily forested valleys of Shawal and Tirah in North Waziristan and Khyber agencies. Raheel Sharif launched a major military offensive – Operation Zarb-e-Azb – and destroyed the command and control centres of various militant organisations.
In the tenures of Gen Kayani and Gen Raheel, the security forces remained focused on clearing the peripheries.
After clearing the tribal areas, the need was felt for similar offensives in Punjab where a majority of extremists and religious organisations have established their headquarters. Unlike past anti-militant adventures – where heavy weapons were employed freely – Operation Raddul Fasaad will require the forces to pluck out the miscreants from the entire population. It will therefore be crucial to win the hearts and minds of people. An indiscriminate and broad-based operation is needed to target militants and their organisations otherwise the benefits of past military offensives will be wasted and subsequently benefit the enemy.
The writer is a political analyst and hosts a Pashto talk show.