Pakistan to launch new military operation against Islamist militants … – Reuters

ISLAMABAD, April 7 (Reuters) – Pakistan plans to launch a new nationwide operation to root out Islamist militants, the national security committee said on Friday, in a potentially costly move for a country already facing full-blown economic and political crises.
One analyst said the operation would also serve as a pretext for the government to delay provincial elections it had been under pressure to hold next month.
Pakistan is in danger of defaulting on its debt, with an International Monetary Fund bailout programme stalled since November, while a bruising political battle is raging between the government and former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The last time it launched an all-out operation against Islamist militants was in 2014, and it cost the country billions of dollars and resulted over a million people being displaced and hundreds being killed.
"The meeting agreed to launch an all-out comprehensive operation with the entire nation and the government, which will rid the country of the menace of terrorism with renewed vigor and determination," the security committee said in a statement.
Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of 220 million people, has seen a rise in attacks by Islamist militants in the last few months, particularly since negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militant group broke down last year.
This year, the group and its factions have unleashed a wave of attacks including a suicide bombing at a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar that killed over 100 people, mostly policemen.
The security committee said it held a meeting on Friday chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and attended by the country's military leadership, and formed a committee to make recommendations regarding the details of the anti-militant operations within two weeks.
The meeting was summoned by Sharif a day after he and his allies held a parliamentary vote to reject a Supreme Court order to hold provincial polls next month.
The government has maintained that the worsening security situation means the provincial elections would have to be delayed.
"Operations have already been under way…but this statement will be a premise for the government to say it can't hold elections in the middle of a country-wide operation," Zahid Hussain, an author of books on militancy in Pakistan, told Reuters.
The court has already rejected the government's argument, but Friday's security committee statement brings with it the key endorsement of Pakistan's powerful military.
"This is a very smartly crafted statement. It (the government) gets the military's backing without the military giving any sort of political statement," Hussain added.
Pakistan's military has ruled the country for over 30 years out of its 75-year history and continues to wield enormous power.
Government and military spokespersons did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.
Former Prime Minister Khan has been pushing for elections amid rising anger at the government over decades-high inflation and a crippling economic slowdown as it tries to navigate tough IMF-backed economic reforms.
Khan said on Thursday that the committee meeting was summoned to use security as a pretext to delay elections, warning that it would pit the military against the judiciary.
The political crisis has already severely affected economic decision-making. Pakistan's finance minister cited domestic political turmoil as a reason to cancel his visit to Washington to attend spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank.
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Shahzad is an accomplished media professional, with over two decades of experience. He primarily reports out of Pakistan, Afghanistan regions, with a great interest and an extensive knowledge of Asia. He also reports on politics, economy, finance, business, commodities, Islamist militancy, human rights
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