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Army top brass dismisses criticism of Azm-e-Istehkam

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ISLAMABAD: In a forceful rebuke, Pakistan’s top military leaders on Friday lambasted critics of the newly launched Operation Azm-i-Istehkam, accusing them of peddling self-serving agendas and malicious propaganda aimed at undermining counterterrorism efforts.

“Forum noted with concern the unwarranted criticism by some quarters and deliberate misrepresentation of the vision, only for furthering their vested interests,” the armed forces’ public affairs wing, Inter-Services Public Relations, said at the end of the monthly corps commanders’ conference at the General Headquarters, which was chaired by Army Chief Gen Asim Munir.

The commanders reviewed in detail Operation Azm-i-Istehkam, which was green-lit by the Central Apex Committee on National Action Plan last month.

The operation aims to combat resurgent terrorism and extremism by leveraging the full spectrum of national power, encompassing all elements of the country’s security apparatus.

The announcement of the operation had sparked a political firestorm, with opposition parties and leaders slamming the government for its lack of transparency and consultation. Critics demanded ans­wers to the operation’s true objectives and scope, warning that it could further destabilise the country.

The outcry has prompted calls for parliamentary debate and approval, with many insisting that the operation’s fate be decided through a broad political consensus. The criticism has forced the government to address the concerns and doubts.

The support of the leading opposition party, PTI, is crucial in this regard, since the operation would necessarily zero in on the epicentre of terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province where PTI holds the reins of government.

Amidst the government’s endeavours to foster a consensus on the counterterrorism operation, the military’s forceful response may precipitate a hardening of opposition parties’ stances, making it even more difficult for the government to achieve the unity of purpose it is so desperately seeking.

Gen Munir, while speaking at the conference, said, “The Army has always been fully prepared to thwart all internal and external challenges and play its due role in the stability and prosperity of Pakistan, regardless of the challenges posed.”

The military commanders reiterated their concern over what they perceive as “politically motivated digital terrorism” aimed at undermining state institutions.

They noted that this campaign has been orchestrated by conspirators in collusion with foreign elements, disseminating falsehoods, fake news, and propaganda to sow despondency and discord. The military emphasised that these actions aim to erode national morale and foster instability.

The military is facing intense scrutiny on social media, with users accusing it of overreaching its authority and meddling in civilian matters.

The ISPR statement highlighted the military’s determination to counter those seeking to “destabilise” Pakistan through the criticism.

This assertion comes amid a broader context where the military and government have taken stringent measures against perceived misinformation and dissent, including social media restrictions and arrest of critics under various legal provisions.

While authorities justify these actions as necessary for national security and public order, human rights advocates and political opponents argue that they suppress free expression and democratic debate.