RAJANPUR/LAHORE/KHUZDAR - Three developments on Monday clearly showed the unflinching resolve and a significant measure of success of Pakistan against all sorts of violent elements challenging the state writ.

In a morale boosting visit to frontline troops in North Waziristan, Pakistan army chief announced the completion of last phase of a long-running military camping after terrorists were driven out of strategic Shawal Valley, in the remote northwest bordering Afghanistan.

Much of the hilly tribal belt, which was once heavily infested with terrorists, warlords and drug cartels, has almost been cleared by the brave soldiers of army and air force as a result of a series of military operations spawning years of tough battles.

In southern Punjab, in middle part of the country, helicopter gunships the same day pounded the hideout of an armed gang that has been holding 24 policemen hostage on a 10-km long island in the centre of the Indus River.

In southwestern Balochistan, at least 144 Baloch militants surrendered their weapons on Monday after accepting the government’s amnesty offer, in a clear sign that the RAW-funded separatism is successfully being wiped out in the province which present a too bleak security picture only a couple of years ago.

“We will fulfill all the promises we have made to the militants who have surrendered,” said Kalat Commissioner, hailing the decision calling it ‘good news’. Among the militants who surrendered at Jhalwan, four are commanders of banned militant organisations.

Hundreds of Baloch militants have surrendered their weapons to the government after amnesty for them was announced last year. The government has promised financial assistance to youth who lay down weapons and abandon violence. Last year on Independence Day, during a ceremony hosted by the Balochistan government, over 400 militants laid down their weapons and vowed to shun violence.

While in North Waziristan Agency (NWA), Army Chief General Raheel Sharif lauded the troops for the successful completion of Shawal operation. He acknowledged exceptional achievements, courage, determination and sacrifices of troops in achieving the objectives, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement.

“Standing shoulder to shoulder with us, the entire nation highly values the sacrifices being rendered in this fight against terrorism.” The army chief, however, emphasised on consolidating the gains and resettle temporary displaced persons (TDPs) back in their areas to the best of our abilities.

Talking about breaking the nexus between terrorists and their facilitators sitting outside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), General Raheel directed for undertaking large scale combing operation immediately to seek out terrorists, their sleeper cells and facilitators in areas other than Fata and enhance reach of the law enforcement agencies.

The final phase of operation was launched in February in North Waziristan’s deeply forested ravines of Shawal Valley and Datta Khel that had been used by terrorists for infiltration between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The military’s media wing also said since start of the last phase in treacherous terrain of Shawal, more than 800sq-km of area had been secured inflicting heavy casualties on terrorists.

While Pakistan’s attention has for years been focused on the Taliban and al-Qaeda threat on the Afghan border in the remote northwest, militants and criminals have quietly expanded their influence and won recruits in the country’s heartland of Punjab.

At least six police officials have been killed in the battle for a river island being held by Chotu gang. The operation in Kacha areas of Indus is part of a sweeping crackdown after a Taliban suicide bombing killed 72 people in Lahore, the provincial capital, last month.

Sources reported that a full-scale operation had been launched on Monday against the criminals. TV footage showed army commandos firing machine guns at the island and gunship helicopters flying overhead.

“We (army) had given the Chotu gang until 2pm today to surrender but they did not abide by the deadline,” said a military official based in the district of Rajanpur in southern Punjab where the battle is taking place. “Now there is no option left but a full-scale operation, which has started.”

The operation in Kacha (riverine) area involving more than 2,000 security forces has been ongoing for two weeks and the army’s push to deploy troops, artillery and helicopter gunships is an unprecedented use of force by the military in Punjab, which is the political power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

It was unclear just how many members of the Chotu gang, blamed for hundreds of cases of kidnapping for ransom, murder and robbery, were trapped on the island, but police said their families were believed to be accompanying them.

The army’s publicity wing announced that General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, the most senior commanding officer in the area, had arrived earlier in the day “to see preparation for impending operation against criminals”.

Staff Reporter adds from Islamabad: About Shawal operation, the ISPR earlier this month had claimed major gains which included killing of at least 252 terrorists while more than 160 were injured during the final phase of operation since its launch in February and had cleared more areas in the remote regions of North Waziristan.

It claimed that eight soldiers of Pakistan Army embraced Shahadat (martyrdom) while 39 are injured while fighting in the Shawal operation.

It also highlighted the successes which included clearing of 640 square kilometres of land in Shawal while major terrorist strongholds of Mana, Gurbaz, Lataka, Inzarkas and Magrotai have been cleared out.

All heights over 9,000 feet have been secured and hideouts of terrorists destroyed. Huge caches of weapons and ammunition have been seized during the operations.

The military said there was virtually no communication infrastructure in the area when the Shawal offensive was launched in February.

During this war, the troops have constructed 150 kilometres of tracks upon the most treacherous of terrains. Most mountains are fully covered with snow and visibility is very poor on the heights.

In North Waziristan, 94 development projects have been completed while 153 more schemes are under way. “Progress of infrastructure projects of North and South Waziristan was reviewed by the chief (General Raheel Sharif) yesterday in the light of an already approved master plan,” the ISPR maintained.

About the people displaced by the ongoing operations, the military said the return of temporary displaced persons (TDPs) was progressing as per the plan. In North Waziristan Agency, 37,012 families (or 36% of the displaced people) have returned home.

Army officials cite significant reduction in terrorist attacks across Pakistan as proof of destruction of terrorist infrastructure and communications network in the tribal areas.

Since the beginning of the offensive in June 2014, more than 4,000 fighters linked to local and foreign extremist groups have been killed in the Waziristan region as well as in related intelligence-based raids across Pakistan.

Earlier this month, Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra had announced that federal government was taking measures for return of temporarily displaced people (TDPs) of Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in this regard, two million TDPs of tribal region would be repatriated by May to their native areas.