ISLAMABAD - The government Saturday informed the National Security Conference that North Waziristan military operation has achieved most of its targets. It said the terrorists are on the run, their command and control system has been crippled, expressing the hope that the likelihood of a backlash would be ‘minimal’.
The conference held at PM House was attended by heads and representatives of almost all major political parties in the National Assembly and the military leadership. Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, ISI DG Lt-Gen Muhammad Zahirul Islam and ISPR DG Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa also attended the conference.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leadership had boycotted the meeting while Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif too were absent because their plane could not take off from Lahore due to bad weather.
Director General Military Operations Major General Amir Riaz in his briefing told the political leadership about the areas cleared by the armed forces during Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the status of objectives achieved so far. The government side told the meeting that during the operation and to handle its blowback requisite legal and constitutional cover has been given to Pakistan Army wherever it was required. It was noted with pleasure that the whole nation including political parties had rejected terrorists and their ideology.
Discussion in the conference was frank, candid and held in a cordial atmosphere. Representatives of all political and religious parties agreed that state has to fight and eliminate militancy. There was absolute unanimity of views on the need to evolve a strategy to eliminate terrorism on long-term basis. Meeting also agreed to work to address extremism.
The whole meeting paid tribute to the valiant armed forces for successful operation and their achievements so far. Tribute was also paid to brave tribal brethren for their sacrifices and love for Pakistan. The meeting started with fateha for the shuhada of operation Zarb-e-Azb.
In a statement issued to the media after the conference, military officials said they were confident that the command and control system of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) had been "crippled". The statement added that "all political and religious parties agreed that state has to fight and eliminate militancy".
More than 800,000 people have been forced to flee from North Waziristan by the assault, with most ending up in the nearby town of Bannu. There have been fears that many top militants also fled.
Responding to some of the queries of the members DG Military Operations Maj-Gen Amir Riaz, who had also given a detailed briefing on the achievements of ongoing military operations and the plan for rehabilitation of IDPs, said that they could not give exact timeframe for the operation but they would conclude it soon.
Sources said that some of the participants including JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman and JI Amir Sirajul Haq pointed out the arrest of innocent people during the ongoing operation. Military elite assured that they would look into the matter and if any innocent people were rounded up would be released after scanning.
Addressing the conference, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the ongoing strikes against the militants were inevitable because peace talks had failed to proceed. But he played down the likelihood of militants being able to hit back. "If there is a reaction to the operation Zarb-e-Azb it would be very minimal," Nawaz Sharif said in an address broadcast live on television.
Sharif added that his nation needed to do more to improve relations with its neighbours. "We need to have cordial relations with our neighbours if we want to progress, Pakistan cannot live in isolation. We don't have relations with a single neighbour to be proud of," he said. He added: "We want good relations with India." PkMAP chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai stressed the need of cultivating good relations with neighbouring Afghanistan, which according him was vital for the success of operation against militants.
Pakistan has long had frosty relationship with India but after sweeping to a landslide election victory last month, India's Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Sharif to his inauguration in a surprise move seen as a significant olive branch to India's Muslim neighbour. Relations with Afghanistan too remain uneasy as both Kabul and Islamabad accuse each other of not doing enough to tackle cross border militancy.
Pakistan began an offensive in the northwest following a brazen attack on the country's busiest airport in Karachi which killed dozens and left a nascent peace process in tatters. More than 500 militants and 27 soldiers have been killed in the assault so far, according to the military, though their death toll for insurgents cannot be independently confirmed.
PM Nawaz in his address said that terrorism had resulted into loss of lives of thousands of armed forces and police personnel as well as the civilians besides inflicting huge loss to the national economy. He said at that time all political parties put forward proposals keeping the national interest above and all had agreed to exercise the option of the dialogue.
Nawaz Sharif said the government carried forward the dialogue option but it could not yield results. Later, a political consensus was evolved that the option of operation be exercised for elimination of terrorists. He said he had advised not to give up dialogue, but later, the terrorists attacked Karachi Airport. Terrorists also carried out several attacks in which a number of security personnel including a major general of Pakistan Army were martyred.
"No doubt, all sacrifices which brought a hope for peace in the country are valuable," the prime minister said adding that later the operation had become inevitable as the terrorists had been destroying the area by laying landmines and other means.
Other participants of the security moot included PPP’s Leader of Opposition in NA Syed Khursheed Ahmad Shah, Leader of House in Senate Mian Raza Rabbani and Makhdoom Amin Fahim; MQM’s Dr Farooq Sattar and Senator Babar Khan Ghouri; PML-F chief Sadruddin Shah Pagaro; JI Ameer Siraj Ul Haq and JI’s Liaquat Baloch; Senator Afrasiab Khattak and Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour of ANP; PML-Z chief Ijazul Haq; QWP chief Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao; NP President Senator Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo.
Some other participants were Senator Sajid Mir (Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadith), Senator Mrs Kalsoom Parveen of BNP-A, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, Minister for Water & Power, Khawaja Asif; Senator Raja Zafarul Haq, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Balochistan CM Dr Abdul Malik Baloch and Political Secretary to PM Dr Asif Kirmani.