If preparations for an operation against the militants were ready years ago, as declared by one retired General of the Pakistan army, why has the government been taken by surprise at the influx of refugees? There can be just one good reason why an operation that should have begun with some degree of stealth and secrecy was announced and re-announced before officially beginning: to clear the area of civilians. In civilian dense areas, the risk of collateral is simply too high- especially if the civilians are Pakistani citizens. And so, Operation Zarbe Azb was painstakingly announced, and ground offensives delayed until the regions under attack were clear of civilian populations, even at the risk of militants fleeing to neighbouring Afghanistan for refuge. And where exactly, one might ask, did the government, and the well-prepared army for that matter, imagine those populations were going to go? Bannu, in KPK, immediately to the east of the region, was the obvious choice for many of them, and yet, Imran Khan has recently stated that the number of IDPs estimated to enter the province was just 100,000. Now, the count has exceeded 700,000 displaced people, and our government is scuttling around like a headless chicken, complaining its been taken utterly by surprise.

Even if this was the case, even if the government had imagined the almost 700,000 inhabitants of NWA to disappear into thin air after clearing the area and are now reeling from shock at their arrival at the gates of Bannu, it has now been almost a month since the operation officially began. Why haven’t arrangements picked up? Why are civilian institutions still lagging in the basic provision of relief, goods, shelter and dignity? Men and women queue for hours in the heat of this year’s Ramzan, waiting to be registered at unmanned registration booths. It is almost inevitable that the army will step in, proving time and again, that democratic institutions are inept, consistently unprepared, and perhaps even unwilling to reform.