What has happened within a week in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mohmand Agency, Quetta, Lahore, Karachi and Sewan Sharaf was a matter of time. According to counter terrorism analysts it was long overdue. Two years of military led operations in North Waziristan with a napping National Action Plan (NAP) scattered militants like flies on a heap of filth (see The Nation, September 17, 2016, ‘NAP or Napping’). Now they have regrouped and returned with a vengeance. With NAP in deep slumber, a government preoccupied with Panama and frail linkages of the center with the provinces, the environment was lucrative for militants to swim like fish in water.

I have remained a fierce critic of NAP for its deliberate inaction on political, judicial and social responsibilities. I had cautioned the military that in the absence of political and social responsibility it was impossible for it to handle counter terrorism, like a comical Western Lone Ranger. Absence of a comprehensive policy aggravated by a lack of political will and expediencies brew a lethal mixture. The paragraph below sums up the appraisal on terrorism.

“As time passes, the suspicions will become the obvious. At that point of time, Pakistan will pass through another phase of bloodshed. This will happen when the LEAs, even in absence of orders will be head on with many islands of militancy lying dormant in Punjab and operating in Sindh/Balochistan. It could also happen if militant organizations on a nod for any reason, take on the LEAs at their own” (In The Nation, January 21, 2017, ‘Pakistan, the dependent state Part 2’). Unfortunately, as events indicate, Pakistan has passed that point of time and terror is revisiting urban Pakistan. It is now in red alert; creating panic that propagates the narrative of militants.

What makes the situation more ominous is that Pakistan’s internal security has linkages to the international environment. Militant sanctuaries within the Kacha Areas of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan with Punjab’s reluctance to take on sectarian outfits combine with hostile intelligence agencies supporting intrusions from Afghanistan. This is now a very serious security threat. Government using them as leverage, to equate these outfits to negate the larger policy interests of Pakistan in order to appease India is now the talk of the town.

Many assessments by other analysts as well as my myself are remarkably similar. Given the environment and politician’s games of expediency, terror is revisiting urban areas of Pakistan with more ferocity. The strategic appraisals on incomplete counter-terrorism operations were validated by the Quetta Commission Report that singled out Punjab as having hideouts and open presence of sectarian organisations. The Federal and Punjab Government frowned over these assessments but facts float on the surface. As I wrote, “Threats from Punjab are always implied. They leave enough room for Houdini acts” (January 21, “2017, Pakistan, the dependent state Part 2”). Local body elections in Jhang (Punjab) and Dawn Leaks provide linkages to this assessment.

It was no coincidence that after the departure of General Raheel Sharif who had kept the civilian establishment on its toes, a malicious slandering campaign began against him. This campaign a carefully planned to slander the armed forces for the ends of civilian supremacy even before the military had completed half of its task in counter-terrorism operations. As General Kayani had assessed, 100 percent military success would bring only a 20 to 30 percent success in counter terrorism. The remaining 70 to 80 percent pertained to politicians and the civilian establishment. As the government’s reluctance and inaction continues, the 10 percent portion of military success will also erode for two reasons. First, because of treating people of FATA like disposable commodities and secondly, by providing space to militants in urban areas and allowing them to propagate.

This reinforces the dictum that unless the hammer and anvil are not used immediately, the sacrifices of civilians and Law Enforcement Agencies that account for over 100,000 lives and many more maimed, Pakistan could return to square one. The anvil was and remains missing in the external and internal environment. Ominously, the battle for winning hearts and minds has not even begun.

Counter-terrorism operations were never a choice but a compulsion. The government and Parliament have treated it like a choice. But most, it is the responsibility of the government and it cannot shy away from taking bold decisions.

Whatever Zarb-e-Azb stood for, the government failed to pursue an effective foreign policy that required Afghanistan and USA to seal the Pakistan-Afghan border like an anvil in North Waziristan and Tirah Valley. The military tried sealing it on the Pakistan side but due to the rugged nature of terrain, most militants found sanctuaries in Afghanistan and were facilitated to fight another day. This was a continuation of the policy of 2002, when India helped denude Pakistani forces on the Afghan Border by mobilising with a very threatening posture in the East. Pakistan has failed to garner allies of peace. The third dimension is that that an anvil on the internal front is also missing.

Middle East, Afghanistan and Ukraine comprise a triangle of instability. Russian intervention in the region was a matter of time. It came first in Ukraine followed by the Middle East. Now it is also getting involved in Afghanistan. The space of ISIS is shrinking in the Middle East. The theatre along with the ISIS threat is shifting to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The regrouping of old hands with new names has already taken place. A loud battle cry has been made in Lahore and Sewan Sharif. Militants are more emboldened in attacking security forces along the Pak-Afghan Border and also in depth. Ultimately, this new game will hit CPEC.

More so, due to government inaction and cooperation, Zarb-e-Azb never reached the political objective of forcing militants into negotiations on Pakistan’s terms. It is the government and not the military that is to be blamed. Sparing them to flee to Afghanistan was no solution for extremist whose narrative was up and running.

So the conclusion is that though the tactical battles were won and FATA garrisoned, nothing was done to inflict a crushing defeat to the foes. Ill-conceived notions of peaceful co existence in Punjab are too wishful at best, and too dangerous at worst.

The threat dynamics explained above are neither new nor an impulsive reaction to latest events. They are a continuation of a thoughtful analysis by many analysts in Pakistan and abroad. Successive governments complacency and lack of political will. Deep down, they are guilty of complicity by allowing their ambitions and expediencies to override national concerns. Redoubts in Waziristan may have crumbled but the state is being consumed from within. Then many redoubts will come up like termite citadels.

It would be wrong to assume that all this has come to pass due to incompetency. The script that counters Pakistan’s interests is well articulated and extremely well executed. It is red alert and lets brace for battle. To eat ‘Lohay ke channay’, the country needs teeth of tungsten carbide.