WASHINGTON - Pakistan's political and military leadership is united ‘like never before’ on counterterrorism efforts and will wipe out the menace as well as the militant mindset.
Speaking to a gathering at the US Institute of Peace, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the December 16 terrorist killing of Army Public School children in Peshawar has galvanised the entire Pakistani nation including the political parties, the civil society, the media and the security forces as the country has decided to “take the bull by the horn.”
At the same time, the minister cautioned against the international community repeating the past mistake of abandoning the region, as it did so after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1990s – a development which has had wide-ranging security implications.
“Pakistan has never been so focused (on combating terrorism in all dimensions and aspects) as it is now – there has never been this kind of unity and purpose,” he said at the event. In this context, the interior minister cited a series of measures and reforms, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has taken, particularly in the aftermath of the horrific Peshawar school attack. Nisar, who presented a historic perspective of the evolution of the militancy in the region, starting with the international fight against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, said the world cannot afford to repeat the mistake of disengaging from the region at this crucial time. In this respect, he referred to the efficacy of the ongoing Pakistani Zarb-e-Azb operation in North Waziristan and said it has eliminated around 2000 terrorists and destroyed their infrastructure.
The interior minister referred to the military transition underway in Afghanistan and the shifting world focus on the international fight against ISIS in the Middle East. Nisar pointed out that one of the concerns is that in the absence of ISAF forces is whether the Afghan forces would have the capacity to curb terrorism within Afghanistan, now that there will be around 10,000 American forces restricted to major bases and towns, mainly in defensive role. “The crucial question is whether the region would be able to defend itself after the drawdown” of the American forces, he said. For its part, Nisar said, Islamabad has vastly improved political and military coordination with the new government in Kabul. “The relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have never been better,” he stressed, saying the improved ties are absolutely in the interest of regional security. He said the Pakistani army chief was in Kabul this week as part of efforts to step up cross-border coordination. “This relationship is of vital importance of bringing sanity to the (restive border) region.”
“The international community must remain focused on the region” he emphasised, drawing attention to the vitality of international support during the current critical phase in the fight against terror.
The regional aspect must be emphasised with regard to efforts geared towards containing and eliminating the terrorist threat. He particularly pointed to the recent upsurge of extremist threat in North Africa and the Middle East. “As of now, I can say confidently the ISIS for the time being is totally a Middle East phenomenon,” and has absolutely no presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, he said.
He said the Pakistani Taliban and Afghan militants are occupying the terrorist space with their own agendas. “I don’t see them sharing their platform with the ISIS, which has a Middle Eastern focused agenda.” At the same time, he warned that unless the international community addresses the regional and international threats, the possibility of a grand alliance cannot be ruled out.
“The area of concern for Pakistan is shifting international focus, it should not happen because 13 years of efforts has gone into reducing the terrorist threat” in the region.
“We need to further coordinate efforts in the mopping up operation. - the international community should not repeat the past mistake.”