Ever since the ‘war on terror’ started in neighboring Afghanistan, after 9/11, a persistent (though subdued) whisper has been echoing across Pakistan’s efforts 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. While the former were targeted in disparate military operations, the latter were seen through the lens of ‘strategic depth’, and (allegedly) given protection, even encouragement, by the military brass. As a whole, it was considered that these organizations were an asset to the Army and the State of Pakistan – as a weapon against India, as well as a bargaining chip with the United States.

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 – there is every evidence that 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 the requisite 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 Laden, who had been “residing” a stones throw away from the Pakistan Military Academy.

But this legacy of shadows has seen 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 with regards to a nationwide effort to rid our country of militancy. A “De-Radicalization of Pakistan”, is what he calls it. 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 on terror.’ And the best part? For now, it seems to not be distinguishing between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. The operation has targeted all outlawed organizations, including the TTP, al-Qaeda, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Afghan militant factions, including the Haqqani Network.

It had been feared, with great credence, that the military onslaught against these (and other) outfits would result in a backlash for the civilian population. That these groups would retaliate with a surge in the number of suicide attacks in our cities and urban centers. That Zarb-e-Azb would unfold like a surgeons knife, which must cut before it heals. However, the unprecedented success of the military offensive has rendered all such predictions nugatory. Pakistan, today, with the grace of the Almighty, is experiencing the longest period of drought in suicide attacks. The militants, it seems, have no real answer to this operation. It is reported that their bases have been uprooted, with no place left for them to hide. A story of success, penned in the ink of martyred blood.

Just yesterday, in a development that seemed near impossible till a few months back, Asmatullah Muavia, the leader of the Punjabi Taliban, announced that his group would surrender their weapons, and carry out no further militant activities in Pakistan.

What these events prove, above all, is that the whispers were correct: in case the military establishment decidedly resolves to undertake the initiative, De-Radicalization of Pakistan is not as impossible as it had been portrayed by the doomsayers.

Despite these successes, one piece of the puzzle, however, that still needs a deliberate focus of General Raheel and his men, is the De-Radicalization of the Armed Forces themselves; a project that might prove more difficult and cumbersome than even the Zarb-e-Azb offensive.

It is a matter of record that ever since the start of this ‘war against terror’, radical elements within our Armed Forces have resisted the operation, supported the enemy, and tried to thwart the de-radicalization efforts of the military leadership. Who can forget that, in 2004, when General Musharraf was targeted in successive assassination attempts, certain officers of the Air Force were found to be part of the planning. When attacks were carried out on the GHQ in October of 2009, or when PNS Mehran was targeted by the TTP in May of 2011, it was discovered that elements within our military forces had supported or aided the attackers. And just two days ago, Navy officials were arrested from Lak Pass area of Quetta, for being part of the attack on the Karachi naval dockyard this week.

We should muster the courage to recognize and articulate the immutable fact that, over the years, certain elements in the military hierarchy, who oppose the war on terror have sympathized with militant outfits. We should do so not with the intent of pointing fingers or blaming institutions, but, instead, with the resolve to address this issue as part of the overall De-Radicalization of Pakistan.

The Armed Forces of Pakistan are the fiercest defenders of our geographical as well as ideological frontiers. And, at the moment, they seem to be under the command of a leadership that no longer believes in a policy of duplicity towards extremism.

This, here, and now, is our chance. This is our moment. This is what thousands of victims of terrorism, and their families, have been praying for, all these years. Let us seize this moment. And carry out a De-Radicalization process that spans across our civilian society as well as the Armed Forces, to rid ourselves of this plague of terrorism, once and for all.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.