Pakistan has retaliated once again by carrying out retaliatory airstrikes targeting militant hideouts in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, killing at least 15 suspected terrorists. Owing to lack of access to the region, reports concerning the deaths of terrorists or civilians cannot be confirmed. If the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has to resort to aerial bombing for such areas, it is only understandable that the media too enjoys limited penetration into conflict zones and is forced to watch from a safe distance. Since General Raheel Sharif’s appointment as the COAS, a visible trend has emerged. Most major attacks by terrorists are followed by aerial bombings on militant strongholds located in FATA. Then, they retaliate and we retaliate against their retaliation against our retaliation. The initiative, which must lie with the state, appears to have been lost. Airstrikes of course do inflict damage to terrorists. However, they always come after severe damage has already been incurred by the state and the common people. So, is there more to our counter-terrorism strategy than revenge bombings? What has the Karachi airport episode taught the government and security forces?

For starters, the government has learnt that the media needs to show responsibility. Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan lamented the media’s irresponsible coverage which may have cost lives, the same way the media laments his unsatisfactory performance which in fact does cost lives. It was also suggested that the word “attack” should not have been used for the Karachi airport attack. It would’ve been helpful if a list of antonyms, synonyms and euphemisms had also been provided so that the media could report exactly as desired by the government. For now, the media is compelled to describe attacks as attacks, and not ‘passionate embrace’ or ‘unfortunate surprise visit’ by terrorists, as some seem to suggest. The government is assured that the international media isn’t running the story because the irresponsible Pakistani media used the word ‘attack’ when terrorists were firing rocket launchers and blowing themselves up at the airport. The primary reason remains the tragic incident itself.

If the government finds time from obsessing over aesthetics, perhaps it could inform the nation about its counter-terrorism strategy. Do we have one? What exactly is it? If it does exist, as a well-guarded secret, has it changed in any away following the recent escalation in terrorism? What happened to NACTA? The negotiations process seems to have borne fruit. Only it’s not the kind Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was hoping for. What does he plan to do next, assuming he does plan to do something? So much is said about the backlash major urban centers will experience if the military goes after the militants, but what has been done to make civilian law enforcement agencies more effective? The menace will not go away on its own. The PML-N cannot close its eyes to reality for long.