Pakistan initiates ‘Operation Azm-e-Istehkam’ in national security drive amid escalating militant violence

Update Pakistan initiates ‘Operation Azm-e-Istehkam’ in national security drive amid escalating militant violence
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of Central Apex Committee of National Action Plan in Islamabad on June 22, 2024. (APP)
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Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistan initiates ‘Operation Azm-e-Istehkam’ in national security drive amid escalating militant violence

Pakistan initiates ‘Operation Azm-e-Istehkam’ in national security drive amid escalating militant violence
  • The counterterrorism drive was announced after PM Sharif warned ‘soft states’ failed to gain investor confidence
  • Shehbaz Sharif called it a ‘grave mistake’ only to expect the armed forces to deal with the issue of militant violence

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top national security forum on Saturday announced its plan to launch a comprehensive counterterrorism campaign, Operation Azm-e-Istehkam — or Resolve for Stability — after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif led a meeting of the civilian and military leadership to review the ongoing security situation in the country.
Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks since a proscribed armed network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), called off a fragile ceasefire with the government in November 2022. Much of the violence was witnessed in the country’s western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, which share a border with Afghanistan where the TTP leaders have reportedly found sanctuary.
While the militants have primarily targeted Pakistani civilians and security forces, they have also threatened the national economy by attacking Chinese nationals working on energy and infrastructure development projects under a multibillion-dollar regional connectivity framework, causing concern in both Beijing and Islamabad.
The Central Apex Committee of the National Action Plan, a high-level forum that includes the army chief, provincial chief ministers and heads of major civil and military law enforcement agencies, convened to discuss the situation before deciding to launch the campaign.
“The Prime Minister approved a reinvigorated and re-energized national counter-terrorism campaign through launching of Operation AZM-E-ISTEHKAM, with consensus of all stakeholders including the Provinces, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, symbolizing the national resolve to eradicate extremism and terrorism from the country,” said a statement released after the meeting.
“In the politico-diplomatic domain, efforts will be intensified to curtail the operational space for terrorists through regional cooperation,” it added. “The renewed and full blown kinetic efforts of the armed forces will be augmented by full support from all Law Enforcement Agencies, empowered by effective legislation to address legal voids that hinder effective prosecution of terrorism-related cases and award of exemplary punishments to them.”
The statement said the campaign would also be complemented by socioeconomic measures aimed at addressing the genuine concerns of people and creating an environment that discourages extremist tendencies.
It would also leverage the information space to promote a unified national narrative in support of the efforts to eradicate militancy from the country.
“The forum reiterated that the fight against extremism and terrorism is Pakistan’s war and is absolutely essential for the nation’s survival and well-being,” the statement informed. “The forum resolved that no one will be allowed to challenge the writ of the state without any exception.”
It noted that the apex committee participants also reviewed measures to ensure foolproof security for Chinese nationals in Pakistan.
INVESTOR CONFIDENCE
Earlier, the prime minister emphasized the necessity of developing a strong and comprehensive response to the challenge of militant violence in Pakistan, saying it was not possible for a “soft state” to strengthen its economy since it tends to lose confidence of potential investors.
He made the observation only a day after senior Chinese politician Liu Jianchao said in Islamabad that Pakistan’s security challenges were undermining the confidence of investors from his country.
Liu’s statement reinforced concerns raised by authorities in Beijing following several attacks on Chinese nationals working on energy and infrastructure development projects in Pakistan, including a suicide bombing in March this year that killed five of them.
“For sustainable development in Pakistan, stability and the rule of law are essential,” the prime minister said. “It is our collective responsibility to enforce the writ of the state with full force and without exception.”
“A soft state can never earn the confidence of investors, whether they are domestic or foreign,” he continued. “Therefore, a healthy and strong economy cannot be envisaged in an unstable state plagued by terrorism.”
Sharif maintained fighting militant violence was the joint responsibility of all institutions of the state.
“We have very easily left this matter to the officers and soldiers of our armed forces,” he added. “The provinces and governments have completely absolved themselves of this responsibility. This is the dangerous approach that has developed over the past years.”
He noted this was not the way Pakistan could “end terrorism.”
“After the 18th amendment in the constitution, the provincial governments have a significant role in this effort and have also been provided resources,” he said. “Therefore, I expect that the provinces will play an active part in combating terrorism. Together, God willing, we will eradicate this scourge.”
Sharif said it was important for everyone to take the ownership of the war against militancy, adding that leaving it to just one institution of the state would be a “grave mistake.”
Earlier in the day, Pakistan’s interior minister Mohsin Naqvi also held a meeting to review the security measures for foreign nationals, particularly the Chinese workers in the country.


Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict adherence’ to security plan for Muharram processions

Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict adherence’ to security plan for Muharram processions
Updated 16 July 2024
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Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict adherence’ to security plan for Muharram processions

Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict adherence’ to security plan for Muharram processions
  • Militants have attacked Muharram processions in Pakistan in the past 
  • The South Asian nation has seen a surge in militancy in recent months 

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi on Tuesday directed authorities to ensure security in all parts of the country and urged “strict adherence” to a special Muharram security plan put in place ahead of Ashura.

Ashura occurs annually on the tenth of Muharram and is marked worldwide by Shi’te Muslims as a day of mourning over the seventh-century battlefield death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Militants have attacked Muharram processions in the past in Pakistan, which has seen a surge in militancy in recent months.

“The Minister directed the authorities concerned for ensuring security in all four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir and emphasized strict adherence to the special Muharram security plan,” state-run Radio Pakistan reported as Naqvi reviewed security arrangements at a main procession held in Islamabad on Tuesday, the 9th of Muharram.

“Naqvi said the federal government is extending every possible cooperation to provinces, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir for maintenance of peace and law and order.”

While the Pakistani Taliban and separatist groups have been the major source of instability in Pakistan, sectarian militants who regard Shiites as non-Muslims also pose a significant security threat.

Large-scale sectarian attacks, which killed thousands in the 1980s and 1990s, are now less frequent in Pakistan but the rise of a local Daesh franchise has presented new challenges for the government. 


Pakistan-origin Shabana Mahmood is UK’s first Muslim woman Lord Chancellor

Pakistan-origin Shabana Mahmood is UK’s first Muslim woman Lord Chancellor
Updated 16 July 2024
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Pakistan-origin Shabana Mahmood is UK’s first Muslim woman Lord Chancellor

Pakistan-origin Shabana Mahmood is UK’s first Muslim woman Lord Chancellor
  • 43-year-old barrister has been a Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood since 2010
  • Mahmood’s family roots are from Mirpur in Azad Kashmir, she graduated in 2002 from Oxford 

ISLAMABAD: Shabana Mahmood, a British-Pakistani MP from Birmingham, was sworn in this week as the United Kingdom’s new Lord Chancellor at a ceremony at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, becoming the first Muslim woman to head the Ministry of Justice as the Secretary of State for Justice. 

A member of the Labour Party, the 43-year-old barrister has been an MP for Birmingham Ladywood since 2010 and previously held various shadow junior ministerial and shadow cabinet positions under leaders Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman, and Keir Starmer between 2010 and 2024.

“I must say what an honor it is to take my own oath as Lord Chancellor today,” Mahmood, 43, said in a speech on Monday as she was sworn in. “There once was a little girl in Small Heath, one of the poorest areas of Birmingham who worked behind the till in her parents’ corner shop ...

“I hold this office in the very highest regard. I do so not just as a former barrister, but as the child of immigrants. My parents weren’t steeped in Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus and the Bill of Rights – as I would one day be. But they did have a strong sense, arriving here in the UK from rural Kashmir, that this country was different: That there are rules, some written and some not, that we abide by.”

Speaking about her inspirations, Mahmood mentioned Elwyn-Jones who served as Lord Chancellor for five years between 1974 and 1979.

“I certainly hope to emulate his longevity. It is said that he was the first Welsh speaking Lord Chancellor for centuries,” she said. “I wonder what he would’ve made of the first Lord Chancellor to speak Urdu.

“I’ve carried the weight of many identities in this career. It is a privilege, but also a burden … So, at the very least, I hope my appointment shows the next little girl in Small Heath, or wherever she may be that, in this country, even the oldest offices in the land are within reach of us all.”

Mahmood concluded by quoting Chapter 4 Verse 135 of the Qur’an: “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin and whether it be (against) rich or poor: For Allah can best protect both.”

“This is the fundamental articulation of how we, as Muslims, view justice in how we deal with the world,” Mahmood said. “It places justice above all else,” the justice secretary said. 

With roots in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir in Pakistan, Mahmood was born in 1980 in Birmingham and lived from 1981 to 1986 in Taif, Saudi Arabia, where her father was working as a civil engineer on desalination. After that, she was brought up in Birmingham where her mother worked in a corner grocery shop that the family had bought after returning to England. Her father became chair of the local Labour party and as a teenager, Mahmood helped him with campaigning in local elections.

Mahmood graduated in 2002 from Lincoln College, University of Oxford and went on to complete the Bar Vocational Course at the Inns of Court School of Law in 2003 after receiving a scholarship. As a barrister, her specialism is in professional indemnity.


Pakistan Navy conducts sea training of Saudi officers and cadets

Pakistan Navy conducts sea training of Saudi officers and cadets
Updated 16 July 2024
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Pakistan Navy conducts sea training of Saudi officers and cadets

Pakistan Navy conducts sea training of Saudi officers and cadets
  • 96 Royal Saudi Naval Forces trainees from King Fahad Naval Academy completed comprehensive sea training
  • Pakistan has close military ties with Saudi Arabia, providing extensive support, arms, training for Saudi army

KARACHI: The Pakistan Navy said on Tuesday it had conducted a sea training exercise for officers and cadets of the Royal Saudi Navy Forces, describing the collaboration as a testament to the two nations’ mutual commitment to enhancing military capabilities and strategic cooperation.

Pakistan maintains close military ties with Saudi Arabia, providing extensive support, arms, and training for the Saudi armed forces. Since the 1970s, Pakistani soldiers have been stationed in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has also been providing training to Saudi soldiers, sailors and pilots.

“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have long enjoyed robust collaboration in military training. Saudi Navy Officers and Cadets frequently undergo training at various PN training units, Ships & Naval Squadrons,” the Pakistan Navy said in a statement shared with media. 

The picture shared by the Pakistan Navy on July 16, 2024, shows officers and cadets of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) attending a sea training exercise. (Pakistan Navy)

“In a recent episode, 96 x Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) trainees from the King Fahad Naval Academy completed comprehensive sea training. They went through modules of tactics, weapon handling, combat training, navigation, naval operations and seamanship. A familiarization tour to Naval Aviation was also arranged.”

The statement added that the collaboration underscored the “multifaceted defense relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.”

The picture shared by the Pakistan Navy on July 16, 2024, shows officers and cadets of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) attending a sea training exercise. (Pakistan Navy)

“It serves as a testament to the mutual commitment to enhance military capabilities and strategic cooperation, reflecting a shared vision for sustained military excellence and cooperation,” Pakistan Navy said. 


Four Pakistanis killed, 30 injured in ‘terrorist attack’ near mosque in Oman

Four Pakistanis killed, 30 injured in ‘terrorist attack’ near mosque in Oman
Updated 16 July 2024
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Four Pakistanis killed, 30 injured in ‘terrorist attack’ near mosque in Oman

Four Pakistanis killed, 30 injured in ‘terrorist attack’ near mosque in Oman
  • Attack took place at Shiite mosque in Wadi Al-Kabir, a district east of Omani capital city of Muscat
  • Omani police have not confirmed motive for rare attack in one of most stable countries in Middle East

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday four Pakistanis had been killed in what it described as a “terrorist attack” near a mosque in Wadi Al-Kabir, a district east of the Omani capital of Muscat. 

The Royal Oman Police have confirmed the attack but given no motive nor said who was suspected of being behind the assault, a rare breach of security in one of the most stable countries in the Middle East.

“According to the latest information received from the Omani authorities, four Pakistanis were martyred as a result of gunshots in the dastardly terrorist attack on the Ali bin Abi Talib mosque in Wadi Kabeer area in Muscat,” the foreign ministry said. “Another thirty Pakistanis are under treatment in hospitals.”

Videos shared by the embassy in Oman showed Pakistan’s ambassador to Oman Imran Ali visiting the injured in hospital. 

“This is my message to the Pakistani community that in this emergency situation, please don’t go toward Wadi Al-Kabir, that area is cordoned off,” Ali said in a video message recorded at a hospital. “If anyone has injured relatives, kindly please don’t give up on your patience.”

He said he had visited up to four hospitals and the injured people he had met were in “relatively” stable condition. 

“People in their homes, please stay safe, and don’t go there [toward Wadi Al-Kabir] because our information is that the emergency situation is still ongoing,” the ambassador concluded.

A handout from the embassy said the “terrorist” attack by “unknown assailants” took place around 11pm on Monday night on the Imam Bargah Ali bin Abu Talib in Wadi Al-Kabir. Authorities evacuated people from the area following the attack and started an operation around 230am.

“Assailants have taken worshippers hostages while reportedly [there are] several casualties; authorities have cordoned off the area,” it added. “Hostage evacuation has started now. Military units have reached.”

The Pakistani embassy’s Facebook page said emergency had been imposed at the Khulla Hospital, Nahida Hospital and Royal Hospital, which Ambassador Ali had visited. 

The attack comes during the Islamic month of Muharram when Shiite Muslims commemorate the seventh-century battlefield martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).


10 soldiers killed in two separate militant attacks in northwest Pakistan — army 

10 soldiers killed in two separate militant attacks in northwest Pakistan — army 
Updated 45 min 54 sec ago
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10 soldiers killed in two separate militant attacks in northwest Pakistan — army 

10 soldiers killed in two separate militant attacks in northwest Pakistan — army 
  • Eight soldiers killed while blocking militants from entering military cantonment in Bannu on Monday
  • Two soldiers, five civilians killed in militant attack on Rural Health Center in Dera Ismail Khan on Tuesday

ISLAMABAD: Ten soldiers and five civilians were killed in two separate attacks in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Monday and Tuesday, the army’s media wing said, blaming insurgents based in Afghanistan for one of the assaults.

Pakistan has witnessed a spike in militant attacks in recent years, with many of them taking place in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which borders Afghanistan. Islamabad blames the surge mainly on militants from the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, and other groups that it says operate out of Afghanistan.

Kabul denies that it allows its territory to be used by insurgents and says Pakistan’s security woes are a domestic issue.

In the first attack, the army said a group of ten militants had tried to enter a cantonment in Bannu in the early hours of July 15, Monday. 

“The attempt to enter the cantonment was effectively thwarted by the security forces personnel, which forced the terrorists to ram an explosive laden vehicle into perimeter wall of the cantonment,” the statement said.

Eight soldiers were killed in the ensuing blast which also led to the collapse of a portion of the outer wall and damaged nearby infrastructure.

“In the ensuing operation, own troops effectively engaged the terrorists as a result of which all ten terrorists were sent to hell,” the army said. “This timely and effective response by the security forces prevented major catastrophe, saving precious innocent lives.”

The military said the attack had been carried out by the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, a TTP faction, saying it operated from Afghanistan and had used Afghan soil to ‘orchestrate’ attacks inside Pakistan in the past as well. 

“Pakistan has consistently raised its concerns with Interim Afghan Government, asking them to deny persistent use of Afghan soil by the terrorists and take effective action against such elements,” the statement said. 

“Pakistan Armed Forces will keep defending the motherland and its people against this menace of terrorism and will take all necessary measures as deemed appropriate against these threats emanating from Afghanistan.”

In a second attack early on Tuesday morning, militants opened fire at staff at a Rural Health Center in KP’s Dera Ismail Khan district, killing two women health workers, two children and a guard. 

“Security Forces in vicinity were immediately mobilized for clearance operation in RHC and in ensuing fire exchange, own troops effectively engaged the terrorists as a result of which three terrorists were sent to hell,” the army said. 

“However, during intense fire exchange, Naib Subedar Muhammad Farooq (age 44 years, resident of District Narowal) and Sepoy Muhammad Javed Iqbal (age 23 years, resident of District Khanewal) paid the ultimate sacrifice and embraced Shahadat [martyrdom].”