The Karachi operation has been going on for 27 months this December, and no end seems in sight. What was billed as a time limited, concise and efficient mission has ballooned into a much more engaged conflict. On Monday, a high-powered meeting of top civil and military leaderships under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met in the metropolis to discuss the future of the operation. Among the notables were Chief Minister Sindh, Qaim Ali Shah, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, as well as the heads of the military, ISI and the Rangers. Their verdict is simple: the operation will continue till the threat is removed. Quite clear, right?

The answer is a resounding no. This sweeping statement does nothing to actually tell us the timetable for this operation. Qaim Ali Shah – who, it must be remembered, was forced into giving an extension to the Rangers despite his party’s opposition – has suggested an extended period of four more months. But this looks tenuous when the Chief of Army Staff claims that the operation will only stop when the last terrorist is dead and the Prime Minister says the conditions are “peace, stability and progress”. All these are vague, relative conditions and thus open to interpretation. Even if they were definable, the condition of ‘complete success’ and peace to stop the operation is an unreasonable one – highly unrealistic. Perhaps the most worrying fact is that the military has forced the government’s hand in this matter before, and considering the concessions they have demanded in other spheres, the government’s control over the matter is effectively non-existent. The Chief of Army Staff and the Prime Minister need to stop dealing in rhetorical jargon and to present concrete objectives and timelines that would govern the operation.

This need for a timeline is not borne out of the Ranger’s failing at their duty. Since the beginning of the operation crime rates have admittedly fallen and terror attacks have lost their previous frequency. The Rangers are doing a good job, but that does not mean it is their job or they should be press ganged into doing it forever. The responsibility for the protection of Karachi lies with the Karachi police department, and ultimately it has to return to them. It needs to be understood that the Rangers are not a permanent solution, and unless the police force can be trained, equipped and put into action, it will never become a competent force. Furthermore, military’s increasing role in law enforcement is raising tensions in the city. A swift departure is not required, but a definite departure is.