As the war drums of Operation Zarb e Azb beat out their chest thumping staccato, a vast slew of armchair political analysts, self-styled activists and the broader urban elite congratulate themselves on taking the fight to their favorite foe, the bearded ones from North Waziristan. The disillusioned and ill-informed overseas Pakistani community, maintaining a comfortable distance from the bombings and attacks that have claimed thousands of civilian lives over the last decade, have long since parroted Western simplifications of the ‘Taliban’ as a distinct and easily identifiable group that needs to be wiped out, virtually to the last man, if there is to be any hope of saving our land from the evils of extremism and radical Islam. Both groups rejoice, secure in the quaint notion that our armed forces are now engaged in a Hollywood-blockbuster style faceoff with our existential enemy, from which they will inevitably emerge victorious and deliver us from the demons that have possessed our national psyche for so long.

Our army jawans and officers are deployed in yet another crushing operation, expected to kill ‘militants’ and launch fatal offensives at the orders of their commanders, and one cannot help but be caught up in a wave of passion and support for these selfless patriots who put themselves in harm’s way for us. But lost amidst the ring of bullets, the razing of homes and exploding shells are the stories of those such as Nandooni, hailing from Dawari in North Waziristan, who walked with her family for 3 straight days to escape the war zone, starting with six children and ending with four. Forgotten are the countless, nameless, fallen civilians and soldiers, who have paid the ultimate price while our leaders tried to figure out which road led to salvation and which to bloody hell.

The headlines come in everyday about new militant hideouts razed, the numbers of Taliban fighters killed, and report with faux incredulity how brazen the enemy was to use even modern media centers to propagate their message. As if the FATA agencies were some other country. As if those bunkers and training camps just miraculously appeared there and were not built with money stolen from us. As if we didn’t have any part to play when we didn’t wonder whose child was being tricked into fighting our ‘ideological’ battles in mountains far, far away from home.

Shall we rejoice then, that our betters have finally chosen the path we wished? That a line has finally been drawn between the civilization we wish to become and the phantasm of myths that was kept alive through the muzzle of an AK47? Shall we celebrate in the streets when they bring in the line of bearded heads, adorned on spikes in a victory parade, or shall we lament the travesty that has befallen us over the past three decades which no one wishes to address even now?

If the state has truly decided to let go of its policy of fermenting ideologies of hatred, seen the error of its ways in arming militias to provide ‘strategic depth’, gone past the point of glorifying warlords and kidnappers, assassins and murderers as soldiers of our faith on a ‘Jihad’ to restore our past glory, where then is our nation’s day of reckoning? Where is our justice? Why have we forgotten who led us to this poisoned well and begged us to drink of it, knowing that three decades of Pakistanis would die before we learned the truth? Why has there been no countrywide closure of madrasahs propagating this vile message amongst children bought or stolen for such a terrible purpose, no crackdown on violent sectarian outfits, no talk of reparations for those left to fend for themselves in territories abandoned by the state’s writ such as FATA and Sufi Mohammad’s Swat, no vilification of the leaders who sunk us neck deep in this muck? Where are the supporters of Zia’s Islamization policies that set the stage for this stone-age revivalist farce, and left us with the legacy of dead women and minorities with their self-righteous Hudood and Blasphemy laws? Where are those mindlessly grinning faces who accepted billions from foreign powers to fight one evil by selling out our children, our faith and the very credo of our nation’s founding principles? Why is there no concerted effort by anyone in power to challenge the narrative of those who have hijacked our religion, who blare their vile message from every pulpit and use every misguided village preacher for their own dark aims?

I am a child of the 80s, born into decisions not of my making but I too carry the blame for this carnage. I remember the Friday and Eid sermons where ‘Jihadis’ would be asked to stand up in the crowd, glorified for their sacrifices, and would make the rounds collecting funds for their next attack. We were duped into selling our souls in bullet sized pieces, and our leaden souls have yet to demand a single head to roll of those who created this blight. Are the perpetrators of this madness hidden from view, have we forgotten because we never knew who they were, or are we once more being manipulated because they are still there, leading us off into another wild goose chase? How have we formed such a magical national consensus on right and wrong, barely two months after declaring the Taliban were worthy of diplomacy, and legitimizing their lunacy through the mantra of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban?

Countrymen, we have not learned our lessons and we are being used once again. We must not let this operation be the end of it. Till the last hate monger has been dragged into the street and called out for his lies, we will not see the back of this demon. If these brave soldiers are to have fought and died for something, it is this: to give us a chance to see the error of our ways, to break these chains of silence and convenient stupor, to look up into the eyes of our God and see Him for His Benevolence rather than the conjured spectre of anger, death and hatred that they wish Him to become. To our armchair elite, religiosity has become a dirty word, and to our rural heart it has become a justification for anarchy and deadly subservience. It took 30 years of very hard work to get us this far, and the road to unearth the true ‘Zaliman’ orchestrating this charade will not be easy. But if we do not act now, our chamber of best kept secrets will become our tomb. And once God turns His face, there is no power in the heavens or earth that can lead us to salvation.

The writer has worked in banking, telecom, advertising, education, and is now a budding entrepreneur.