Review of Zarb-e-Azb 2016

With year ending and Pakistan looking into 2017, it may be pertinent to conduct a review of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and build upon lessons for a way forward.

But, before that, some thought on Hybrid Warfare. The first decade of 21st Century witnessed a new form of warfare experienced by states in MENA (Middle East and North Africa) as well as Eastern Europe. The causes could be numerous, but main factors driving these wars are five; poor governance and leadership deficit ,socio religious and politico economic trends, increasing gap between haves and have-nots, interventions by sole super power as well as regional hegemons and the disenchanted youth bewildered by information explosion. Global War on Terror launched with fanfare and shock and awe sloganeering has uprooted siting regimes, created strategic chaos and created ungovernable zones where warlords and terrorist groups have raised thriving cities to ground; Libya, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Iraq, Yemen and Syria have become cauldrons of human tragedy, resulting in massive exodus of populations searching for refuge in neighboring states, Europe and beyond. Although similar predictions were made about melting of Pakistan; it was saved from the disaster by National Resolve and dismantling of terrorist networks; leaving some pockets, who can still sneak in to hit softer targets.

Zarb-e-Azb was a strategic initiative to rid Pakistan of the scourge of terror; however the recent national debate in the media tends to look at the result card like a school master; who feels that success of LEAs and Army could only be acknowledged if they scored a 100 percent.

Do we understand the nuances of Hybrid Warfare and its ability to tire and demoralize states and its defence institutions; what is dilution of military forces in time and space, especially when you remain engaged in Hybrid War for more than a decade, aren’t we in a state of war for the last decade and a half; and what do we expect from soldiers and officers fighting on the amorphous frontlines? What is unique in Pakistan’s geostrategic position; incidentally it has remained a frontline state in international power play since last 40 years or so.

Surrounded by nuclear military giants like Russia, China, India and sharing neighborhood with Afghanistan and rest of West Asia, which has seen active and physical presence of entire war machine of the West and the mighty US, what liberty of action is enjoyed by us as a sovereign state? With CPEC on the horizon and realignment of strategic forces in the region, has Pakistan crossed the Rubicon of peace and stability? These are some of the questions to be answered through informed debate, and not through barber shop gossip on the media.

The Hybrid War has two faces, Kinetic and Non Kinetic; a state in the middle of Hybrid War has to address both and any deficiency in one would lead to failure of the other. In the Non Kinetic domain, we have a complete assortment of diplomatic maneuvering, Information Operations conducted through media, economic warfare through employment of economic hit men and money laundering cartels, use of domestic and international law to put maximum pressure and application of chaos through bewilderment of the masses, especially the youth. These stated tools of Non Kinetic Warfare are applied over a long time by exploiting existing or perceived fault lines to achieve the objectives of strategic chaos, with a view to either demoralize pillars of national will or total dismantling of governing structures. In the Kinetic domain,proxies,terrorist organizations,sub-nationalist militias and secret organizations like Black Water are unleashed to dismantle states in an orchestrated campaign after Non Kinetic Warfare has created the desired effects and leveled the turf for use of kinetic tool. The end game may witness interventions by hegemonic powers in the garb of humanitarian assistance and state rebuilding. No wonder Donald Trump has described the futile wars of chaos in Iraq and Syria as a failure of American statecraft.Libya,Syria,Ukraine,Yemen and Iraq are recent examples of the application of Hybrid Warfare.

Pakistan was subjected to this Hybrid War and Pakistan’s fight against this monster stared after US intervention in Afghanistan. So, Zarb-e-Azb is a phase of this national effort and should not be seen in isolation. Those criticizing its success story, like a school master, should simply compare overall security environment prevailing in Pakistan before the start of this operation and the end of 2016.

An Army fighting a war also needs some moral support from all sections of the nation; after all we are in a state of war, where no formal declarations are made to start or end the war; where the bullet hitting the chest of a soldier is not coming from a defined front and where some portion of the media keeps spitting venom against the same soldier who is trying to remain awake so that the nation sleeps peacefully in a chilly night. If Hybrid War is the new normal, why measure its success on daily basis, why criticize the military for one sneak raid by terrorists when hundreds of such raids were either neutralized or defeated.

While appreciating the role of LEAs in scarifying their lives for Pakistan; what should be the role of leadership and common citizens in fighting this war? Has our collective conscience forced us to implement the lofty goals of National Action Plan; why are political turfs more important than the success of this war,what is the shared responsibility of our legal fraternity to help win this war? If the state structures of security are demolished, every individual perishes as a member of a nation, look around, how many courts are functional in Syria and Yemen, what business is being conducted in a warlord dominated Libya and Iraq? Where are the lost generations of Syria and Yemen migrating to?

Even our brotherly country, Turkey, whom we wish all the success, is slipping into chaos due to Hybrid Warfare. Turkey is more developed in human and material resources than Pakistan; why is the Turkish leadership finding it difficult to stem the tide of this ominous war?

An advice to our hyper media would be to kindly understand the nuances of Hybrid War, compare the success or failure of Operation Zarb-e-Azb with the security environment prevailing before start of this operation and then mark the score card objectively. And do remember, the soldier fighting this war on your behalf, does not need dollars and plots, just a word of appreciation.


(The authors are freelance collumnists,