There are a myriad of challenges faced by civilians running away in mass exodus to avoid the conflict between the Pakistan Army and the Taliban. Most have taken shelter in Bannu; many of them elderly citizens, infants and pregnant women. They were initially banned for entry by the Sindh and Punjab governments, but later due to immense moral pressure, were allowed to enter the provinces. One does wonder about the problematics behind such a move; though it certainly seems unpalatable and inhuman to prohibit the entry of displaced Pakistanis into Pakistani provinces, there is no mechanism to check whether terrorists are infiltrating civilian areas alongside, and camouflaged within, the IDPs (a complexity that is perhaps not getting as much attention as it should).

This is a very real threat; in the worst case scenario, militants can safely infiltrate major cities and urban hubs of Pakistan to pursue terrorist activity. What must not be forgotten is that the Taliban are still active in Southern Punjab and in Quetta, along with Karachi where there are many no-go areas as the turf wars continue between the Taliban and the MQM. With their networks strong and alive in these parts, with easy access to their safe havens, underground cells and ideological fountainheads, is it possible that militants disguised as IDPs find safety to carry out large scale attacks? And are civilian institutions and we, in the cities, prepared to handle it? Despite the imposition of Article 245 in major cities, there remains no way to know for certain if somebody is “clean” or not. That makes prevention an issue.

The Taliban, it must be remembered, are not only dangerous as a physical force. In fact, some might argue that the ideological repercussions of society’s and state’s interactions with the Taliban overwhelm any material threats from them. What of the slow seeping in of an extremist mindset? Of disguised attitudes that did not remain limited to NWA or FATA but found their way into the urban centres of Pakistan, in the form of bigotry, intolerance, violence and indifference to the plight of minorities? And so, it must be understood, that the military operation will not be all we need to counter terrorism. Dominant social discourse will have to shun Talibanism and everything it stands for. No nation can progress until it emerges from its ideological prisons.

On the other front, barring the problematics of the war- the military has been in a strong position to tackle the Taliban on a strategic and systematic level. They have done this by dividing them and weakening their power structures. It is believed that military intelligence has played its due role in dividing the Taliban into various groups. Major splits have been caused due to the accession of their power seats. On the one hand, there is Maula Fazlullah and on the other, there is Khalid Meshood Sajna of the Meshood Tribe. The tug of war between them has created a lot of tension amongst the two tribes, who further splintered into various factions.

And then there were the drones; a campaign against the drones was spearheaded by the Jamaties, Imran Khan and his former wife Jemima Khan. Drones were in fact, used repeatedly to justify violence from militants. But under the current situation, this war became inevitable, bringing with it the possibility that the splinter groups may rejoin to fight the army. However, this remains uncertain.

Though this might be some way off, the aftermath of the war too is something to consider. It will require damage control, the rebuilding of infrastructure, hospitals, schools, and general accessibility. The biggest challenge will be to rehabilitate the populations back to their homes. It goes without saying that Pakistan needs peace. But as we have so violently been taught, this peace cannot be attained without a cost. Let us hope it is not heavier than what we can bear.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.

@zeebahashmi