Civil-military relationships rely greatly on perception, manufactured or real, and nothing changes perceptions as swiftly and drastically as war. In every war, there are heroes and villains, winners and losers – all part of the same side, presumably united under one flag. It’s a big stage, occupied by different players or actors, all part of the same show. Of course, there is an audience – the general public – fixated but easily distracted, weary but still prone to hurriedly gulping whatever is served. Therefore, it is important to view the ongoing military operation and its fallout in the larger context of civil-military relations. If all goes well, whose victory will it be to claim? And if results disappoint, who will face the music?

We have the armed forces, engaged in a battle with vicious militants, risking their lives for the sake of the motherland. They have already cleared over “80% of Miramshah”, and the rest of North Waziristan is likely to follow. Militants holed up in the tribal agency don’t stand a chance against the mighty military, and those who have fled owing to “peace talks” led by the government will be hunted down eventually. News channels are showing footage of destroyed hideouts, IED-manufacturing factories, weapons of all shapes and sizes – all owned by terrorists once, and now under the possession of our forces. The valiant efforts of our soldiers are certainly not restricted to the battlefield. They can be seen setting up camps for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), providing them with food and shelter, digging holes in the ground in the blistering heat. Our heroes.

The civilian government, on the other hand, is hopeless as ever. The perception is: Incompetent civilians, unable to get their act together even during a severe crisis. The PM doesn’t have to take up arms and fight the terrorists himself. All that is required of him and his government is to facilitate the armed forces and deal with the fallout. Not much, right? And how’s it doing on that front? Not so well. It is handing over control of major cities to the military since civilian law enforcement agencies cannot be trusted to deal with possible backlash. People certainly feel safer now. SAFRON minister, Abdul Qadir Baloch, prefers to bash political opponents than talk about IDPs when on a rare visit to their camps. Interior Minister, Nisar Ali Khan, who has an extremely crucial role to play in internal security, has just returned from the dead. From what it looks like, (and that perception matters a great deal), the government is a major threat to the smooth success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Our villains.

A strong government is a must for balanced civil-military relations. Its strength comes from performance and image. In the absence of the former, it is impossible to sell the latter. Now is the time for the government to swoop in and change perception. How can it do that? In the immediate future, one of the greatest things it can do to help itself, is settle the IDP crisis in an efficient way. That is the order of the day, that is the great humanitarian crisis on our hands, that is the test of leadership at this hour. Lets hope it happens fast, before the army wins all too many hearts and minds.