From most dangerous place to favorite tourist destination

Pakistan, once called as breeding ground of terrorism, recorded its lowest number of terror-related deaths in 2019. Since 2007, there is a 90% decline in deaths related to terrorist incidents, states Global Terrorism Index (GTI) Report 2020.  Most of the deaths form terrorism in Pakistan were from small-scale attacks that were not attributed to any particular group. The report highlights that out of 37 terror groups active in Pakistan in 2015, only ten were (partially) active in 2019. GTI report also points out that since 2014, the economic impact of terrorism declined by 95%.

Furthermore, the report assessed that the most impacted regions of Pakistan in 2019 were Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (erstwhile FATA); the two regions recorded 77% of attacks and 85% of deaths in 2019. The most frequent forms of terrorism in these regions were bombings and armed assaults targeting civilians, police and military personnel.

GTI report 2020 is a comprehensive analysis of terrorism impact in 163 countries covering period till end 2019. The latest edition of the report summarizes key global terrorism trends/patterns over the last 50 years. It covers over 17000 terrorist incidents from 1970 to 2019.

It is pertinent to note that the number of terrorist incidents reported by GTI in Pakistan (279) is half as compared to India (558). Here it must be flagged that it is a serious analytical concern that Indian statistics in GTI does not reveal India’s nefarious designs in Balochistan and other parts of Pakistan, as the report does not include state sponsored terrorism.

Although, the report does not reflect the accurate position due to certain research-based limitations, still the statistics of the report clearly indicate that Pakistan’s situation has improved. As per GTI report Pakistan ranking got better from 5th (2019) to 7th (2020).

Now this is a big turn-around. A country once known as a hub of terrorism, presenting itself today as a the most experienced in combating terrorism, all by itself, without any outside assistance. The question is how did the country managed to do so? What has happened in last few years that a country with an image of ‘most dangerous place’ is gushing with tourists in 2020. It has been declared as ‘favorite tourist destination’ by many.

The reduced terrorism trend in Pakistan can be rightly attributed the firm resolve of political leadership across the board and counter-terrorism operations undertaken by Pakistan military and other law enforcement agencies (LEAs). Since 2001, Pakistan’s Military launched series of operations to clamp down terrorist and establish the writ of the government. These operations include Operation Al-Mizan (2002-06), Operation Rah-e-Haq (November 2007), Operation Sher-e-Dil (September 2008), Operation Zalzala (2008-09), Operation Sirat-e-Mustaqeem (2008), Operation Rah-e-Raast (May 2009), Operation Rah-e-Nijaat (October 2009), Operation Koh-e-Sufaid (July 2011), Operation Zarb-e-Azb (2013) and then Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, was launched on February 22, 2017.

After few years of initial chaos and uncertainty, finally in 2012, the Pakistan Army was able to take control of key towns of the Malakand Division and many areas of the tribal region. North Waziristan was the only quagmire left. When General Raheel Sharif succeeded General Kayani in November 2013, he gave the order to initiate Operation Zarb-e-Azb. By June 2014 the operation was underway. Operation Zarb-e-Azb was conducted against the following militant groups: Tehrik-i-Pakistan (TTP), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkestan Islamic Movement, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Al-Qaeda, Jundallah and the Haqqani Network.

SEEK-DESTROY-CLEAR-HOLD was the military strategy used for this grand and comprehensive operation. Seek and Destroy element is extracted the Vietnam War, while Clear and Hold constituent is from the Iraq War. Pakistan’s military fused the two doctrines together as one for the operation to be efficacious. The modus operandi for this was that the military would seek the target; once sought, it will be destroyed, then the infrastructure, bodies and weapons would be cleared and the area will be held both during and after its completion to ensure no resurgence of militants or militancy happen again.

After just one and a half years of launch of Zarb-e-Azb, remarkable success was realized. The terrorists’ spine was broken and their network dismantled. Nexus sleeper cells mostly disrupted and with the Intelligence Based Operations (IBOs), the residual of the sleeper cells was busted. Consequently, the overall security situation improved extraordinarily and the terrorist attacks nose-dived to a six-year low since 2008.

Pakistan’s military under-went a massive experience during the past decade in the backdrop of terrorism and militancy in the country. The experience speaks for itself, as each of the operation proved to be more successful than the previous one. Being trained as a force for conventional warfare, currently the military forces have become well equipped and trained to fight unconventional warfare effectively. The ground forced are now well acquainted with the terrain, surrounding areas and local tribal population.

Though, these operations witnessed a huge loss of civilians and military personnel, but it appears to be the hardest and most effective training the Pakistan Army would or could undergo. More sophisticated and precise weapons have been used by the Pakistan Army in the recent combat missions. Among all major military operations in Pakistan, Operation Rah-e-Raast and Zarb-e-Azb have been the most successful in eliminating terrorists.

As per Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) – the media and public relations wing of Pakistan Armed Forces, Operation Zarbe-Azb was the biggest and most well-coordinated operation ever conducted against terrorists. It is a war of survival; hence, this operation held greater significance among all the operations conducted so far.

Later, combined military operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (elimination of strife) was initiated on February 22, 2017, to disarm and eliminate the terrorist sleeper cells across the country. It also aimed to eliminate the threat of terrorism, consolidating the gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and ensuring the security of Pakistan’s borders. Countrywide disarmament and explosive control were also given as additional objectives of the operation. This Operation has been mostly acknowledged one after Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

It helped preserve stability and consolidate peace across the country with an additional lens of prevention of militancy and terrorism’s resurgence. Now, as the country is breathing peacefully, it is time to plug in economic approach robustly, in parallel, as not to let roll back the gains made so far.

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein
The author Saddam Hussein is a Research Economist at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad. He graduated from the School of Economics, Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) and also holds Master of Philosophy degree in Public Policy from PIDE. Hussein writes regularly for national and international print media, frequently appears on TV for expert analysis and conducts training workshops on a wide range of thematic areas.