The declaration by COAS Raheel Sharif of the culmination of Operation Zarb-e-Azb is extremely encouraging. The Pakistan Army should be congratulated for the work that went behind this clean-up operation, the last phase of which covered over 800 square kilometres in Shawal, according to the Army. Given that all operations in the past have also been declared successes however, this statement alone will not instil the belief of security into the general public. Only the coming months will be able to indicate whether North Waziristan is actually clear. For almost two years, the area has been a battleground for the army and the militants, with an information blackout. Every statement, from declaring this operation as a success, to the number of soldiers and militants killed has been issued by the establishment, with nothing to compare it with, or evidence to corroborate.

Reportedly, during the last phase, over 250 militants were killed, while the total number of militants killed in the past two years is over 4000.

Woefully, if countering terrorism was only a game of numbers, we would have won a long time ago. Border security, and countering the extremist narrative are only two of a whole multitude of other facets to focus on. Of course, establishing a permanent state presence in the area is of the utmost importance as well. Apart from a military presence, it is important that the people that live there feel as much a part of the country as people do all over. Little has been done to look to solve the issues of the people of the agencies in the past, and in the absence of a state-sanctioned legal, social and political system, it is only a matter of time before the vacuum is occupied with anti-state sentiment.

As for the future, the resettlement of the Temporarily Displaced Persons (TDPs) must be made the highest priority at this point in time. The people that lost their homes need to be resettled, and the vast areas need to be occupied by inhabitants in order to keep the terrorists from reasserting control. The combing operations in other parts of the country suggested by the COAS make sense, but only if they are done in a more transparent manner, with the media and the public allowed access to independently verified information. It is important to remember the sacrifices our soldiers have made in this operation, and many others before it. Implementing a lasting security plan and ensuring no more ground — in North Waziristan or elsewhere — is lost would be the best way to honour those fallen.