The new narrative on recalibration of relations with neighbors, especially Afghanistan and promoting regional connectivity for shared economic prosperity, evolved by the PML(N) government and backed by the military establishment has already started paying dividends. So has the strategy to revisit relations with the US and the increased cooperation between the military establishments of the two countries. The first indication of the success of this initiative came when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited Pakistan and the two countries agreed to cooperate in fighting the menace of terrorism, enhancement of trade and economic relations and working together for building regional linkages. The Afghan President in a meeting with the COAS General Raheel Sharif, also sought the Pakistan Army’s help in training the Afghan Army. Then the two-week long visit of the COAS General Sharif to the US, where he held meetings with high ups of the military and security establishment and an unscheduled meeting with Secretary of State Senator John Kerry, which also helped in removing misgivings about operation Zarb-e-Azab and enlisting their support and backing for tackling TTP operatives based in Afghanistan.

The second manifestation came after the return of General Raheel Sharif, when the US launched drone attacks against TTP militants in Afghanistan. When General Raheel dashed to Kabul in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Army Public school in Peshawar— which was directed from Afghan soil—and met Afghan President and the Isaf commander, they expressed solidarity with Pakistan, condemned the dastardly attack and gave a commitment not to allow the Afghan territory to be used against Pakistan. Reportedly, Afghan security forces launched an operation against militants in the Kunar province on 21st December where TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah is believed to be hiding. Chief of the General Staff of Afghan National Army General Sher Muhammad and Isaf commander General John Campbell who called on General Raheel at the GHQ on 23rd December, assured their full support to Pakistan in the war against terrorists and vowed to eliminate TTP terrorists on Afghan soil. Earlier, three TTP leaders who were captured by US forces in Afghanistan in October 2013, were also handed over to Pakistan by NATO authorities. Not only that, but President Obama has signed a bill into law providing an extension in the Coalition Support Fund for Pakistan for another year under which US$ 1 billion would be given to Pakistan for fighting terrorism. All these developments are a ranting testimony to the success of the new policy of the government towards Afghanistan and the US, representing a healthy and encouraging departure from the past.

The hostility towards Pakistan nurtured and harboured by the Karzai government and its connivance with India to support and encourage cross-border attacks by TTP militants based in Afghanistan, has been replaced by a cooperative relationship between the two countries, which augurs well for peace and tranquility in the two countries as well as in the region. Another very significant effect of the new strategy with regards to relations with Afghanistan and the US, is that both have ultimately realized the importance of the role that Pakistan can play in bringing peace to Afghanistan and eliminating terrorism and vice versa. This will surely help in scuttling Indian influence in Afghanistan and revision of the US stance on giving India a prominent role in the post-US era.

The menace of terrorism has not only been a cause of bother for Pakistan and Afghanistan but also other countries of the region, including Russia and Chinam who has been pointing out to Pakistan the links of terrorism in its Sinkiang province with the militants based in Pakistan and urging the desirability of a decisive action against them. Even during the Prime Minister’s last visit to China when agreements were signed with regards to projects related to Pak-China Economic Corridor and investment in power producing units, the Chinese government raised this issue with him. The success of the initiative for regional connectivity, Pak-China Economic Corridor and peace and progress is undoubtedly dependent on elimination of the scourge of terrorism. Therefore, the decision of the government to launch Zarb-e-Azab and its resolve to fight terrorism and religious extremism with an iron hand, in the wake of the attack in Peshawar, is not only a necessary step but also a visionary move with regards to the future of the entire region.

And now that the entire nation is unanimous in its resolve to go for the kill against these anti-state elements and enemies of our way of life, the government must make sure that there is no let up in dealing with these faceless enemies of the country. It is gratifying to note that the Prime Minister and the military leadership are determined to hunt down terrorists whereever they are found and rid the country of terrorism. An anti-terrorism Action Plan is being drawn up in consultation with all the stakeholders and some new legal and administrative measures are also being contemplated to support the objectives of the military campaign. A country wide hunt for terrorists is in full swing and many have already been killed in encounters with the security and law enforcing agencies. This is all very encouraging and reassuring but the real battle would have to be fought on the ideological front. There is no dearth of the supporters of the TTP narrative, as is evident from the support publicly expressed by the Imam of the red mosque in Islamabad, Maulana Abdul Aziz, and students of Al-Hafsa, for the Taliban and Daish. There is a need to neutralize this mind set which has found acceptance country wide. The enormity of the barbarity perpetrated at Peshawar and the reaction of the nation might have silenced the supporters and sympathizers of the TTP for the time being, but there is a likelihood that they might reactivate themselves in the future. That aspect would also have to be taken care of. The government and the nation will have to evolve a counter-narrative to the philosophy of the terrorist outfits and pursue its dissemination with an unswerving resolve with the help of religious scholars and the media.

The writer is a freelance columnist.