Saturday marked a year since Operation Zarb-e-Azb began; which was promised to deliver a decisive and comprehensive end to terrorism. The day was marked by airstrikes in Dattakhel, which reportedly killed 20 militants, showing that the operation and other military activities in the country are far from over. Yet that does not mean no progress has been made; the Pakistan of today is different from the Pakistan of a year ago – the narratives are different, as are the policies and the objectives those policies achieve – and perhaps that is the biggest achievement of the operation. On the ground there are mixed indicators of success; the military makes large gains against the militants in the tribal regions, but that has failed to curb the number of terrorist attack by a significant margin. How do we evaluate the success of the operation? How do we discover what else needs to be done?

The numbers – provided by the military itself – point toward a heavy victory; 2,763 suspected terrorists have been killed in the North Waziristan operation, 837 hideouts have been destroyed and 253 tons of explosives have been recovered, while 347 brave soldiers and officers laid down their lives in the line of duty. The army has cleared out most of the region, and barring minor reprisal attacks, seems to be in control of it. Across the border, Afghanistan is putting pressure on the militants; in conjunction with Pakistani military and intelligence authorities; the latter of which has signed several intelligence sharing agreements with its Afghan counterpart. On a purely militaristic standard, the operation is close to success. It was long awaited and sorely neede. Without their leaders, sanctuaries, arsenals and infrastructure, the militants pose a much diminished threat.

Yet is the militaristic standard enough for us to reach a conclusion on the operation’s success? The mere fact that terrorist attacks continue – heinous, blatant, and often highly sectarian in nature – means that other factors come into play. Without wading into conspiracy theories and blame deflection methods we must realise that the foremost factor that sustains attacks is the creation of an environment conducive to the birth of extremism and militancy. Here Pakistan has come a long way, but it still has miles to go. There seems to exist a concrete public narrative that defines the Taliban as enemies; far cry from the time when notable Taliban sympathisers roamed the halls of Parliament and publicly advocated their arguments – although it did take the death of 132 children to achieve that. Yet a narrative alone cannot tackle this problem. The NAP has become a forgotten piece of paper.... seminary syllabus reform plans have been dropped, seminary monitoring is still in limbo, banned organisations like ASWJ spew hate against minorities on a daily basis and the state does not have the spine to convict known militants like Zakiur-Rehman Lakhvi. Unless this can be done, our military victories will be hollow; for every terrorist we kill, another will be ready to take his place.