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IANS Analysis: Pak's perilous path – Counter-terror strategy and strain on Afghan relations

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New Delhi, July 10 (IANS) The persistent threats by high-ranking Pakistani officials and ministers to target terrorist groups inside Afghanistan have raised the spectre of further destabilisation in the region.

For a country that has struggled to contain the menace of terrorism within its borders, Pakistan’s military-dominated establishment often obfuscates its shortcomings by blaming the Afghan Taliban and accusing it of providing sanctuary to terrorist groups targeting Pakistan.

With this convenient scapegoating failing to address the root causes of Pakistan’s internal security woes, these threats mark a significant escalation in Islamabad’s approach to dealing with terrorism, actions that will most likely further strain the already fragile relations between Islamabad and Kabul.

With an exponential surge in terrorist violence in the country, Pakistan’s federal government, under pressure from China, whose five nationals were killed in one such incident on March 26, announced its latest counterterrorism operation, Azm-i-Istehkam, or Strong Resolve for Stability, on June 22.

A press release from the Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), affirmed that this “reinvigorated and re-energised” military campaign “will integrate and synergise multiple lines of effort to combat the menaces of extremism and terrorism in a comprehensive and decisive manner”.

This was followed by Defence Minister Khwaja Asif’s declaration of June 27 emphasising in no uncertain terms that Islamabad would not hesitate targeting terrorist groups inside Afghanistan as part of this counterterrorism push.

Operation Azm-i-Istehkam is the latest in a series of military campaigns by the Pakistani state to root out terrorism from the country.

In 2014, Pakistan launched its first large-scale counterterrorism operation, Zarb-e-Azb, or Sword of Prophet Muhammad, against various extremist groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in its North Waziristan region. While it displaced nearly a million people and led to hundreds of civilian deaths, Pakistan claimed to have succeeded in dismantling the terror ecosystem and eliminating over 3,500 terrorists.

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Despite these claims, the operation failed to address the root causes of extremism in the country, allowing the TTP and other groups to regain strength swiftly and engage in anti-state violence.

Following Zarb-e-Azb, the Pakistan Army initiated Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, or Rejection of Strife, to consolidate its gains. However, the recurrent terrorist attacks indicated that the campaign did little to dismantle the terror ecosystem in the country, allowing the terrorists to operate with relative impunity.

The problem with these operations has been their unilateral militaristic approaches to the issues that demand multipronged engagement, something Pakistani authorities seem unwilling to adopt.

The Pakistani government’s strategy took a more complex turn in August 2021, when it supported the Afghan Taliban in ousting the Republican Government of Afghanistan to establish an Islamic Emirate.

The belief was that a friendly regime in Kabul would help contain terrorism away from Pakistan’s borders while providing it a strategic depth to counter regional powers like India and Iran. This expectation, however, proved to be very short-lived and highly delusional as it did not bring any security dividend to Pakistan. Instead, it appears to have further contributed to Pakistan’s internal security vows.

The Afghan Taliban, sharing ideological ties with the TTP, have little incentive to act against their ideological brothers and credible allies who had fought alongside them against American forces. As such, it has disregarded Islamabad’s calls for undertaking military action against TTP, especially after the breakdown of a ceasefire between the Pakistan Army and TTP in November 2022.

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Ever since, Pakistan has witnessed an exponential surge in terrorist attacks resulting in over 2,300 deaths of Pakistani security forces, as claimed by the country’s federal government.

Ever since, Pakistan has repeatedly blamed the Afghan Taliban for providing safe sanctuary to TTP militants, asserting that these groups “have consistently used Afghan territory to launch terror attacks inside Pakistani territory”, accusations that Kabul has repeatedly denied.

Interestingly, the Afghan Taliban has accused Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of patronising Islamic State Khorasan (ISK), a group which has emerged as the biggest security challenge for the Afghan government and conducted dozens of terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan.

With an unprecedented surge in terrorist attacks in March 2024 wherein seven Pakistani soldiers were killed, including a Lieutenant Colonel and a Captain rank officer, Islamabad went on to conduct cross-border air strikes inside Afghanistan on March 18, 2024, demonstrating the level of distrust between Kabul and Islamabad. The Pakistan authorities claimed to have killed eight terrorists in the Paktika and Khost provinces along the Pakistan border in its air strikes.

Afghan Taliban in response condemned the air strikes as an outright “violation of Afghani territory”, warning Islamabad that such transgressions could “lead to dire consequences which will not be in control of Pakistan”, even as it mobilised its forces along the Durand Line.

Nevertheless, Kabul has consistently denied its support for the Pakistan Taliban. It has reasoned that instead of blaming Afghanistan for its “failure to control violent incidents”, it would better serve Islamabad to look inwards and address its internal fissures than pointing fingers at others.

As such, Pakistan’s threats to repeat such actions not only risk violating international norms but could also ignite a broader conflict in an already volatile region.

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The potential for cross-border counterterrorism operations raises several critical questions. First and foremost, can Pakistan achieve its security objectives without further destabilizing the region? The answer is uncertain. While targeting militant groups in Afghanistan may yield short-term gains, it will likely provoke retaliatory attacks and deepen the cycle of violence as has been demonstrated by its earlier military campaigns.

It seems that Pakistani authorities in its bid to appease China, on whose behest Operation Azm-i-Istehkam is being conducted, are unwilling to address the root cause of instability in the country.

Moreover, the projection of the ghost of external threat is an obfuscation of the failure of Pakistani security forces which have for years engaged in counter-terrorism measures and yet not succeeded in ending this menace from the country. It is highly unlikely that the Afghan government will view any such incursions and Islamabad’s constant badgering with kindness amidst its own security predicaments.

Therefore, as Pakistan initiates yet another military campaign, it should remember that any cross-border misadventure in Afghanistan is fraught with risks that could further destabilise an already fragile region.

Shehbaz Sharif’s government would do Pakistan a favour by refraining from such hawkish measures and understanding that the path to the country’s lasting security and stability lies not in military transgressions but holistically addressing the root cause of terrorism in the country which has socio-economic grievances at the core. It must tread carefully, lest it finds itself embroiled in a conflict that it cannot control.

–IANS

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International

Maldives pledges $1.3 million in aid for Palestinians

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Colombo, July 14 (IANS) The Maldives has pledged to donate over $1.29 million in humanitarian aid for Palestine, Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations Ali Naseer Mohamed said.

The aid was announced during the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Pledging Conference held Friday at the UN headquarters, Xinhua news agency reported.

Naseer also said that the Maldivian government has increased its annual donation of $5,000 to Palestine by 10-fold, to $50,000 this year.

The representative also urged the international community to increase their financial assistance and fulfill political obligations to progress UNRWA initiatives.

–IANS

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Six killed in road accident in Afghanistan

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Pul-e-Khumri, July 14 (IANS) Six commuters have been confirmed dead and five others injured in a road accident in north Afghanistan’s Baghlan province, police said.

The deadly road crash on Saturday occurred in the province’s Dand Ghouri district when a military vehicle collided with a passenger car, killing six travelers including a woman, and injuring five others, the statement added, reported Xinhua news agency.

Similarly, a motorcyclist was killed when his motorbike hit a vehicle in Hussainkhail region, Pul-E-Khumri city, the provincial capital of the province late on Saturday.

Road accidents are prevalent in Afghanistan due to poor road conditions, reckless driving, difficult terrains, overloading, overtaking, and overspeeding.

–IANS

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World leaders condemn assassination attempt on Trump

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United Nations, July 14 (IANS) World leaders have condemned the attack on former US President Donald Trump at an election rally in western Pennsylvania.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s Spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, on Saturday said, “The Secretary-General unequivocally condemns this act of political violence.”

“He sends his best wishes to President Trump for a speedy recovery,” he added.

Trump, who is due to be anointed the Republican Party’s presidential candidate, had a narrow escape on Saturday when shots aimed at him at a campaign rally grazed his ear and killed two people at the event.

Many leaders took to X, the social media for immediate dissemination, to express their disgust with the attack and condemn political violence, while some saw it as an attack on democracy.

US Vice President Kamala Harris took to her X handle and expressed her shock over the attack on Republican Party Presidential candidate Trump.

“I have been briefed on the shooting at former President Trump’s event in Pennsylvania. Doug and I are relieved that he is not seriously injured. We are praying for him, his family, and all those who have been injured and impacted by this senseless shooting,” Harris wrote.

She said, “We are grateful to the United States Secret Service, first responders, and local authorities for their immediate action.”

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“Violence such as this has no place in our nation. We must all condemn this abhorrent act and do our part to ensure that it does not lead to more violence,” Harris added, condemning the attack.

Former US President Barack Obama said, “There is absolutely no place for political violence in our democracy. Although we do not yet know exactly what happened, we should all be relieved that former President Trump was not seriously hurt, and use this moment to recommit ourselves to civility and respect in our politics. Michelle and I are wishing him a quick recovery.”

Former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also expressed shock over the incident and wished for Trump’s speedy recovery.

“As one whose family has been the victim of political violence, I know firsthand that political violence of any kind has no place in our society. I thank God that former President Trump is safe. As we learn more details about this horrifying incident, let us pray that all those in attendance at the former President’s rally today are unharmed,” Pelosi said in a post on X.

Former Presidential candidate Nikki Haley, in a post on X, said, “This should horrify every freedom-loving American. Violence against presidential candidates must never be normalized. We are lifting up Donald Trump, the entire Trump family, and all in attendance in prayer.”

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UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer expressed his shock over the attack and said that political violence has no place in society.

“I am appalled by the shocking scenes at President Trump’s rally, and we send him and his family our best wishes. Political violence in any form has no place in our societies, and my thoughts are with all the victims of this attack,” Starmer said in a post on X.

One of Trump’s closest Western allies, Hungary’s President Viktor Orban posted. “My thoughts and prayers are with President in these dark hours.”

Another right-wing politician, Argentina’s President Javier Milei, blamed what he called the “international left” for the attack, writing, “In panic of losing at the polls, they resort to terrorism to impose their backward and authoritarian agenda.”

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, another leader from the right, expressed “apprehension” and wrote that she hoped during “the electoral campaign, dialogue and responsibility can prevail over hate and violence.”

From the US neighbour to the north, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted, “I’m sickened by the shooting at former President Trump. It cannot be overstated – political violence is never acceptable.”

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, “We must stand firm against any form of violence that challenges democracy. I pray for former President Trump’s speedy recovery.”

Writing in Portuguese, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said, “The attack on former President Donald Trump must be vehemently repudiated by all defenders of democracy.”

Writing on his and his wife’s behalf, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted, “Sara and I were shocked by the apparent attack on President Trump. We pray for his safety and speedy recovery.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wrote that the “incident” at the campaign rally “is concerning and confronting. There is no place for violence in the democratic process.”

Chile’s President Gabriel Boric Font posted in Spanish, “Violence is a threat to democracies and weakens our life together. We must all reject it.”

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol denounced the attack as “horrible political violence” and wished Trump a quick recovery.

“I am appalled by the horrible political violence. I wish former President Trump a speedy recovery. The people of Korea stand in solidarity with the people of America,” Yoon wrote in English on his official X handle.

–IANS

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Trump to attend Republican National Convention next week despite injury in rally shooting

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New York, July 14 (IANS) Despite being injured in a shooting at a rally in Butler in the US state of Pennsylvania, former US President Donald Trump’s campaign said he will attend the Republican National Convention next week as scheduled.

In a joint statement, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee said the former president “is doing well” and “looks forward to joining you all in Milwaukee as we proceed with our convention”, reported Xinhua news agency.

The Republican National Convention will convene in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on July 15-18, during which Trump is expected to be officially nominated as the party’s presidential candidate for the November 5 election.

Gunshots were fired at a rally in Butler, Pennsylvania on Saturday evening when Trump was delivering a speech.

Screams were heard from the crowd and Trump was seen with blood on the side of his head and his ear, video footage showed. He was quickly escorted into a vehicle before his motorcade left the venue.

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In a post on his social media platform Truth Social, Trump said he was shot with a bullet “that pierced the upper part of my right ear.”

“I knew immediately that something was wrong in that I heard a whizzing sound, shots, and immediately felt the bullet ripping through the skin,” he said.

“Much bleeding took place, so I realised then what was happening,” he added.

Trump noted that one person was killed at the rally, and another badly injured, adding that he wanted to extend condolences to their families.

In a statement on X, the US Secret Service said that during Trump’s rally in Butler, a suspected shooter fired “multiple shots” toward the stage from an elevated position outside of the rally venue.

Secret Service agents “neutralized the shooter, who is now deceased,” and the former president “is safe,” the statement said, adding that one spectator was killed and two others were critically injured.

“The incident is currently under investigation,” the statement added.

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The shooting incident is being investigated as an attempted assassination, law enforcement officials said.

US President Joe Biden condemned the shooting on Saturday.

“There’s no place for this kind of violence in America. We must unite as one nation to condemn it,” he said on X.

In remarks released by the White House, Biden said he had been thoroughly briefed on the incident.

“I have tried to get a hold of Donald. He’s with his doctors, he’s doing well,” Biden said.

Biden spoke with Trump in the wake of the shooting incident, according to the White House.

Biden, who was returning to the White House from Delaware to monitor the situation, said there is no place in the country for this kind of violence.

“We cannot allow this to be happening. We cannot be like this. We cannot condone this, Everybody must condemn it,” Biden said.

–IANS

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South Korea warns to end North Korean regime if Pyongyang uses nuclear weapons

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Seoul, July 14 (IANS) South Korea warned on Sunday that North Korea will face the end of its regime if it attempts to use nuclear weapons.

“We sternly warn that there is no scenario in which North Korea’s regime will survive after using nuclear weapons,” Seoul’s defence ministry said in a statement, reported Yonhap news agency.

It was released in response to a statement by the North Korean defence ministry from the previous day. After South Korea and the United States adopted “Guidelines for Nuclear Deterrence and Nuclear Operations on the Korean Peninsula” in Washington on Thursday, North Korea condemned it as a “reckless provocative act.”

North Korea also threatened that Seoul and Washington would pay “an unimaginably harsh price.”

Commending the signing of the guidelines, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and US President Joe Biden warned any North Korean nuclear attack against South Korea will be met with a swift, overwhelming, and decisive response.

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The allies’ guidelines are expected to expand the assignment of the US strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula by increasing the frequency and level of their deployment during both wartime and peacetime.

The South’s defence ministry said it was “self-contradictory” on North Korea’s part to condemn Seoul and Washington for formulating joint nuclear deterrence guidelines when it is Pyongyang that threatens the use of nuclear weapons.

“Without North Korean nuclear threats in the first place, those joint guidelines would not have been necessary,” the ministry added. “This is a fair step taken by the South Korea-US alliance in the face of the improving North Korean nuclear capabilities and its blatant nuclear threats.”

The ministry also blamed the rising tension in the Korean Peninsula on the North Korean regime and noted, “Despite opposition from the international community and sufferings of North Korean people, the regime has continued with its illegal nuclear missile development.”

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The ministry issued a similar warning in April after North Korea said it had conducted rocket drills simulating a nuclear counterattack.

–IANS

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