ONE must not be insensitive to the people of Swat who took to the streets on Thursday to protest against the military operation going on in the area. Despite a curfew, and militants lurking in the background, thousands of people ventured outside their homes urging the government to cease the operation with immediate effect. The reason: mounting civilian casualties. Along with this, demands to enforce Sharia in the Malakand division and to provide shelter to internally displaced persons were also made. Those addressing the crowds were particularly concerned about the rising death toll among the civilian population. The misery of the people could be gauged from the fact that they have threatened to block the Peshawar and Mingora highway in case their demands are not met. Though the official strategy of relying upon the Army action cannot entirely be termed a failure, the reality is that more and more civilian deaths are occurring because of it. The pity is that while civilians continue to bear the brunt, those challenging the writ of the state remain at large. Recently a number of residents died when they were caught in a cross fire between the Army and militants, which resulted in the migration of thousands of people. Almost 100 civilians have died since the start of the third phase of operation, Rah-e-Haq, on January 26. Part of the reason why this has happened is the type of weapons being used, which include mortars, heavy artillery, tanks, helicopters etc. To top it all, the locals are also complaining that it has now become a routine for the Army to launch fresh operations without informing the citizens or dropping leaflets, giving them ample time to vacate the area. As things stand, a severe humanitarian crisis seem to be in the making as the imposition of curfews every other day has made it virtually impossible for the people to get food, medicine and other basic supplies. Hardly anyone would disagree with the protesters who were of the view that the collateral damage while it was discrediting the government was generating sympathy for the militants who regardless of the citizen's plight continue to exact a heavy toll on the security situation. The other day ANP parliamentarian Alamzeb Khan was killed in a bomb attack in Peshawar. Baitullah Mehsud, who claimed responsibility for the attack, has threatened to kill more ANP leaders. Given the gravity of the situation, ignoring the call of the Swatis for the restoration of peace and order is something the government can ill afford. Keeping in view their demands, a negotiated settlement followed by troops withdrawal could prove to be effective.