Zarb-e-Azb (Urdu: ضربِ عضب ALA-LC: Ẓarb-i ʿAẓb pronounced [zərb-e əzb]) means “sharp and cutting strike”. Azb also refers to the name of the sword belonging to the Islamic prophet Muhammad, which he used in the battles of Badr and Uhud.
Peace negotiations with the Taliban were announced by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his election, although previous attempts to engage the Taliban in dialogue had failed. The first session of talks, between committees appointed by the Government of Pakistan and the Taliban, was held on 26 March 2014 at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House in Islamabad. The Taliban did not name representatives from their ranks, instead nominating pro-Taliban religious figures to present their views. The movement called for the implementation of Sharia in Pakistan; the Pakistani government demanded the cessation of hostilities, insisting that talks be held within the framework of the Constitution of Pakistan. A month-long ceasefire was reached between the government and the Taliban on 1 March 2014.
In addition to the meetings at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House, negotiations involved helicopter travel by government representatives to the area near the Afghan border. The government had indicated that stronger military action would be implemented if the talks failed.
Negotiations collapsed after the execution of 23 Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers by the Taliban on 17 February 2014. The soldiers had been held by the insurgents since 2010, and on 17 April 2014 the TTP formally ended the ceasefire. More than 90 militants have been killed by Taliban infighting since March 2014. The strife, triggered by differences between the Mehsud group (led by Sheheryar Mehsud) and another TTP faction (led by Khan Said Sajna), impeded the peace talks. The negotiations were irreversibly damaged by a terrorist attack on Karachi Airport for which the Taliban claimed responsibility and which killed 28 people (including security personnel). A Pakistani security official said, “The army is ready for an operation. It now all depends on the government to make a decision.”
Jinnah Airport attack
Main article: 2014 Jinnah International Airport attack
The operation began one week after a terrorist attack on Pakistan’s busiest airport. On 8 June 2014, 10 militants from the TTP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan attacked Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, killing 28 people (including the attackers) and wounding at least 18.
After the attack, the Pakistani military launched a series of aerial strikes on militant hideouts in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. At least 25 militants, including foreign fighters, were killed on 10 June. Two drone attacks on 12 June killed Uzbek, Afghan and local militants. On 15 June the Pakistani military intensified air strikes in North Waziristan and bombed eight foreign militant hideouts, killing as many as 140 militants (most Uzbek, including persons linked to the airport attack and airport attack commander and mastermind Abu Abdur Rehman Almani). The intensified aerial strikes in the wake of the attack were an extension of operations against militants conducted over the last few months.
“ Using North Waziristan as a base, these terrorists had waged a war against the state of Pakistan and had been disrupting our national life in all its dimensions, stunting our economic growth and causing enormous loss of life and property. They had also paralyzed life within the agency and had perpetually terrorized the entire peace loving and patriotic local population. ”
—Inter-Services Public Relations
The Pakistani military had prepared for the operation long before, and the government prepared for a three-front operation: isolating targeted militant groups, obtaining support from the political parties and saving civilians from the backlash of the operation.
Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said that the nation stood by its army: “The decision was taken after the strategy of dialogue failed. The operation will continue until it reaches its logical conclusion. Any group that challenges Pakistan’s constitution, attacks civilians, soldiers, and government installations and uses Pakistani territory to plan terrorist attacks will be targeted”. Asif added that internally displaced persons would be assisted by the federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments: “We will try to ensure that the displaced do not have to stay away from their homes for too long.”
Army troops encircled militant bases in the towns of Mirali and Miranshah. Pakistani officials said that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were requested to seal the border on their side so that militants do not escape. The operation involved the Pakistan Air Force, artillery, tanks and ground troops. According to a military statement, “On the directions of the government, armed forces of Pakistan have launched a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists who are hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan.” An official with the military said that between 14,000 and 20,000 soldiers were normally stationed in North Waziristan before the operation, and he expected the offensive to require no more than a total of 30,000 troops.