This week, a jubilant nation welcomed the return of Shahbaz Taseer, amidst widely disparate accounts of his release and return. On the one hand, some sections of the political elite (e.g. Chief Minister Balochistan) and security establishment are claiming a heroic operation that resulted in the release of the slain governor’s abducted son, while on the other, there are reports of the young (and courageous) man being released by the captors themselves (either after payment of ransom, or under the pressure being influenced in Zarb-e-Azb).

Either way, in a country that is being strangled by the clutches of militancy, the safe return of Shahbaz Taseer, within days of Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging, has been a breath of fresh air.

In its aftermath, some political analysts and well-wishers have started to suggest that the hanging of Qadri and safe return of Taseer is perhaps symptomatic of the larger success that our establishment and security agencies against enjoying over the terrorist outfits. That these two events, all within the span of a week, indicate a turning of the tide against the reign of extremism and radicalization in Pakistan.

It is pertinent, therefore, to take this moment and reflect on Pakistan’s overall report-card in the war against terror. Are we achieving the sort of successes that we set out to achieve? Are these successes temporary in nature, or are we finally on course to create a sustainably peaceful society? What deficiencies still needs our attention in this war against terror? And what further steps must be taken to remedy the wrongs?

Since the beginning of ‘war on terror’ in the neighboring Afghanistan, after 9/11, a persistent (though subdued) whisper has been echoing across Pakistan’s narrative to confront radicalization. A whisper that is the last bastion of all discussions about countering religious terrorism within the country. And the whisper is simple: if the Army becomes serious about countering terrorist organizations, we will finally be rid of this cancer that is eating at the fabric of our nation.

During the Musharraf years, despite rhetoric to the contrary, our establishment never grew out of the doctrine of ‘strategic depth’, which was the backbone of our security policy during the 1980s and 1990s. A few isolated military operations were undertaken during the Musharraf regime, but all with a well-defined idea of distinguishing between militant groups that were anti-State, and those that were pro-Pakistan. This policy of duplicity failed, as expected. And in the process, a culture of militancy grew in vigor and strength throughout the Musharraf years, culminating perhaps in the Lal Masjid episode.

During the Kiyani years – which were far less transparent in terms of Army policy and initiatives against militancy – the jaded policy of ‘strategic depth’, of protecting certain militant outfits on the basis of institutional alliance, was continued in full force. Again, from time to time, sporadic military operations, against isolated pockets of militants, were conducted to appease the international community as well as domestic clamor. However, the entire exercise lacked a deliberate intent and resolve. And this insincere ideology eventually resulted in what is perhaps the most embarrassing episode of our entire military history (barring East-Pakistan debacle, perhaps): the infiltration of American forces into Pakistan territory, in the quiet of the night, to kill Osama Bin Laded, who had been “residing” a stones throw away from the Pakistan Military Academy.

But this legacy of shadows saw a pleasant and enormously welcomed change under General Raheel Sharif’s leadership of our Armed forces.

General Raheel’s Army command has had a clear and declarative stand against militancy from the very outset. A quiet and thinking man by all accounts, General Raheel has never minced his words in regards to a nationwide effort to rid our country of militancy. And for now, he has proven sincere and deliberate about this commitment.

Zarb-e-Azb is the most comprehensive operation against militant outfits that we have seen throughout the course of this elusive ‘war of terror’. And the best part? It seems to not be distinguishing between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Talibans. The operation has targeted all outlawed organization, including the TTP, al-Qaeda, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Afghan militant factions, including the Haqqani Network.

While Raheel Sharif’s military has done an exceptional job at blunting the wave of terror, we must also recognize that once the operation Zarb-e-Azab is over, the khakis must go back to their barracks; leaving the counterterrorism efforts in the (yet unworthy) hands of civilian law enforcement agencies.

And this, above all, is the weakest link in our counter-terrorism stride.

Our colonial police forces, despite the heroics of a select few members, have let the nation down. The police force, which increasingly seems to be a euphemism for the personal security guards of the political leadership, has been neither trained nor equipped to counter the sophistication of modern-day terrorism. Most importantly, with a police force divided across disjointed district and provincial lines, there seems to be no central intelligence sharing mechanism between the competing turfs of the local police jurisdictions, or between the police and other intelligence agencies.

For this purpose, the National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA) was constituted as a central repository for cross-agency intelligence gathering, and for launching coordinated counterterrorism efforts. However, despite having been created over half a decade ago, NACTA is still struggling to find its bearings and to contribute, in any meaningful way towards the promise of its creation. This stunted development of NACTA, even while faced with national urgency and need for the same, is indicative of bureaucratic inertia and unresolved territorial struggles within our civilian law enforcement apparatus.

The safe return of Shahbaz Taseer is wonderful news for the nation. But it does not mark a definitive turning of the tide against extremism.

Countering the menace of terrorism is the single most important national issue of our time. While the Pakistan Army, under General Raheel Sharif, has made admirable gains in the fight against militancy and extremism, our civilian law enforcement apparatus must do more (immediately) to consolidate these gains. This is no time for half measures, institutional haggling, and ideological dormancy. This is no time for the weak or the timid or the insecure. We stand in the gaze of history. And history is an unforgiving mistress.