China Furious With Pakistan Over Terror Attacks On Its Citizens, Infra; Military Launches ‘Azm-i-Istehkam’

A new and ‘reinvigorated’ counter-terrorism operation (Azm-i-Istehkam) has received approval from the Pakistani government to thwart the increase in attacks on Chinese nationals in the country, which has left Beijing fuming and hesitant to inject more capital for its South Asian ally.

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The operation, codenamed ‘Azm-i-Istehkam,’ has been projected as the country’s resolve to eradicate extremism.

Dawn News reported that the campaign was launched with the support of all stakeholders, including the provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Pakistan-controlled Kashmir), at a meeting of the Central Apex Committee of the National Action Plan (NAP), which was presided over by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“Azm-i-Istehkam will integrate and synergize multiple lines of effort to combat the menaces of extremism and terrorism in a comprehensive and decisive manner,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a press release earlier this week.

The statement quoted PM Sharif as saying, “Azm-i-Istehkam is an overall national vision of multifaceted cooperation of various security agencies and the entire state system.” He explained that “for this purpose, already ongoing IBOs (Intelligence-Based Operations) will be intensified rather than [launching] a new and organized armed operation.”

The operation would involve bolstering the efforts of the Pakistani military forces with the backing of all law enforcement authorities, along with appropriate legislation to close legal loopholes that impede the efficient prosecution of terrorism-related crimes.

However, as per reports, the new operation is being opposed by the political opposition within the country. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam – Fazl (JUI-F), and the Awami National Party (ANP) are among the opposition parties that have rejected the plan both inside and outside of Parliament. They insisted that Parliament be consulted before making any decisions.

Soon after the rebranded operation for uprooting extremism and terrorism from the country was released by the Prime Minister, it triggered concerns. The opposition parties fear that the new operation would also lead to a mass displacement of people, like several such operations that the government has launched in the past.

Rattled by the protests, the Pakistani Prime Minister swung into action the next day. He assured the opposition parties that Operation Azm-i-Istehkam would intensify ongoing intelligence-based operations and would not be a “new and organized” military offensive.

The Prime Minister also stated, “A large-scale armed operation that would require displacement — the initiation of such an operation under Vision Azm-i-Istehkam is merely a misunderstanding.”

The PMO pointed out that “previous kinetic operations were conducted to physically dislodge terrorists from their known locations which [became] no-go areas and compromised the writ of the state. These operations required mass displacement of the local population and systematic clearance of affected areas”.

The statement went on to explain that “as there are no such areas in the country anymore and terrorists’ ability to carry out large-scale organized operations inside Pakistan had been decisively degraded by earlier kinetic operations… no large-scale military operation is being contemplated where displacement of the population will be required”.

The reassurances, however, have had little impact, as evidenced by the fierce criticism from the opposition parties and their constituents. The head of the opposition alliance, Tahreek-e-Tahafuz Aain Pakistan and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, warned on June 26 that they would intensify their opposition to Operation Azm-e-Istehkam by filing an appeal with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) if needed.

Despite the opposition, the Pakistani government appears to have set its sights on the refurbished operation to assuage Chinese concerns.

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Azm-e-Istehkam means “strong resolve for stability” or “strong commitment for stability.” This will be the twelfth major military operation against Islamist terrorists since 2007. There have been other smaller ones as well.

The government said it had extensive consultations with the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NCTA) about the new operation. The NCTA developed the 20-point NAP to combat terrorism and extremism, which was subsequently approved by Parliament on December 24, 2014. The decision, at that time, was made in response to a terrorist attack that claimed many lives at the Army Public School in Peshawar.

However, this time, the need to eradicate terrorism comes from pacifying the concerns of Beijing as Chinese nationals continue to come under attack. In 2024, more violent attacks have taken place against Chinese personnel and installations in the north and south.

March 2024, for instance, was a bloody month when Chinese interests in Pakistan were the target of at least three attacks.

Armed militants first launched an attack on Pakistan’s Gwadar port, which was constructed in Balochistan with Chinese assistance. The facility serves as the focal point of Pakistan’s most ambitious infrastructure and investment project in recent memory: the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

china pakistan soldiers army
File Image: Chinese & Pakistani soldiers

Later, an armed group attacked PNS Siddique Naval Air Base, which is among the biggest naval air stations in the country and is located in Balochistan. The group claimed that their attack was motivated by Chinese investment in the region.

Following that, Chinese engineers engaged in the development of a hydroelectric project funded by China in the north of the nation, close to Besham City, were targeted. The suicide attack killed five Chinese engineers on March 26 along with their Pakistani driver.

China, a major ally of Pakistan, has contributed $62 billion to the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Earlier this month, Sharif and General Asim Munir, the head of Pakistan’s army, traveled to China for five days. In their talks with the Chinese, they emphasized that their primary focus was to safeguard Chinese interests and citizens.

Attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan, according to the government, are part of a “larger plan” to harm the nation’s economic interests and destroy relations between the two nations. Faced with recurrent attacks, the Chinese nationals living in Pakistan have made no secret of their anxieties. As per reports, some have gone so far as to alter their routines for security.

Experts from India have noted on multiple occasions that the attacks are a result of disenchantment among people who have not profited from the project. The Chinese have imposed a condition in the CPEC agreement that Chinese companies and their workers can only execute specific projects that Chinese companies deem strategic.

Also, since the projects have not contributed to enhanced employment and prosperity for Pakistan citizens and the local population, it has generated a lot of animosity against the Chinese.

On its part, China has stated that it could bring in its security if the Pakistani security establishment found itself incapable of protecting Chinese workers.

Experts now reckon that with a slowing economy and financial distress, Pakistan cannot upset the Chinese or their investment in the country. The newly launched operation is being seen as a move to drive out extremism and pacify China, which has been vocal about its disappointment with the Pakistani government.