The decision to battle militants in North Waziristan under the banner of Zarb-e-Azb has thrust the country into the beginning of a multifaceted process. While the dominant focus has been on the on-ground offensive, the remaining aspects of the fight such as the ideological prevalence of the extremist mindset and the very real implications of the military decision stand forgotten.

For one, the operation has come bearing an enormous human cost, dehumanized as the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) issue. Over half a million IDPs have been registered so far, with the numbers expected to swell further and exert more pressure on the government’s capacity and capability to ease the massive predicament.

Rashida Dohad, programme director at the Omar Asghar Khan Foundation, penned the plight of fleeing IDPs when she said, ‘The state’s ineffective response can be partly attributed to the proverbial high number of cooks that spoil the broth. Who is in charge? The federal government, the military, the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or the administration in Fata? More often none assume responsibility, with each blaming the other for the suffering caused to the people of NWA, who are not just displaced, but also disowned.’

But while the Pakistani government’s response to various emergencies and crises has traditionally been slow, sluggish and therefore, often ineffective, this fresh crisis of displacement has given rise to immense ease and access with which extremist and militant organizations are being allowed to operate as relief groups – which can potentially have grave implications.

This is not the first time this occurrence has surfaced. When the devastating floods of 2010 wrecked the country, displacing millions, the same extremist and militant organizations stepped up to provide aid as the then-Pakistan People’s Party government stumbled in the effort.

Published on August 23rd 2010, Corey Flintoff’s report on NPR titled ‘In Pakistan, Militants Use Aid to Seek Support’ described a similar situation:

“The government of Pakistan has clearly lost the war in terms of winning credit for its relief efforts...Even if the reports are exaggerated, the extremists have created the impression that they care about ordinary people.”

The same month, the Daily Beast also reported on Jamaat-ud-Dawah’s proud claim of providing relief to more than 250,000 flood-affectees.

It is in such instances when the government limps to act that such groups find fertile ground to posit themselves as alternatives in front of the people, especially those in need of help, building popular bases of support and converting their ambitions into influence and power; through which they gain the audacity to later pose a challenge to state and society.

As Zarb-e-Azb rages on, it must be realized that it is not just an operation. It is a war with multiple battles. And while the main front is North Waziristan, it has opened another front within the IDP camps as extremist and militant organizations capitalize on the crisis.

It might be the case that Pakistan is supplanting one kind of extremism with another as the organizations assert themselves through practical measures, presenting themselves as saviours of the IDPs; winning their sympathy, good-will and trust in contrast to their disillusionment with the government; managing to channel the discontent to recruit soldiers and supporters for their perverted causes and twisted ideologies which one day might acquire enough strength to require another Zarb-e-Azb for its eradication.

As Rashida Dohad continues in her piece: ‘While the state fidgets or forsakes, dangerous non-state actors are quick to fill the vacuum.’

Moreover, as Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has stated there is to be no time-frame for the completion of the operation, it becomes all the more important to recognize the need to stem the tides of extremism from all sides; one of which might be gaining potency by the initiation of the war and its human costs. If the government has taken the decision to go to war, it must stand by it and brave it to adequately manage its consequences. It does not have the luxury to flail or fail now.

The government must leave no stone unturned in establishing itself as the dominant body spearheading efforts for succouring the IDPs – the people of FATA who have already long suffered under the draconian rule of the FCR, a pressing problem that also must not be ignored by this government if it seeks to ensure the welfare of the people of Pakistan - and tighten its grip on them thereby leaving them little space to substitute for the government in relief and aid work; which, if left unchecked, can potentially have grave implications and consequences.

The writer is a student based in Lahore.