As General Kayani flew over Waziristan in the rear seat of an F-16 high performance fighter interceptor during visit to a PAF operational base few days ago, he did create a record for being the first army chief to have ever flown in a fighter aircraft donning the pilot's special G suit. But more significant was the message sent to militants in general and Baitullah Mehsud in particular that the impending joint Army-PAF offensive in Waziristan would be swift, sure and decisive. With the US having 'mysteriously' or to be more apt, 'deliberately' failed in targeting Mehsud in CIA's drone attacks, despite repeated and accurate intelligence sharing with US agencies, Operation Rah-e-Nijat may well prove to be the coup de grace against Baitullah Mehsud and his followers. A man of few words, General Kayani's recent "we need no help or advice" was a stern note to US/NATO counterparts that Pak Army with PAF's support is determined to accomplish the needful with their own resources. This becomes more important in the backdrop of alleged CIA/RAW's involvement in creating disturbances in Pakistan with Baitullah's support. The PAF's role in Operation Rah-e-Nijat will shape the outcome of the Waziristan operation. Like in Swat, where PAF's precision airstrikes helped destroy Taliban's command, control, communication (CCC) and training centres in remote mountainous terrain, in Waziristan too, the PAF faces the challenge to neutralise and destroy deep, underground, hardened CCC network of tunnels and bunkers. Success for the PAF operations lies in fine coordination, planning and sound technical intelligence in finalising militants' targets with GHQ and army's field formations. PAF's reliance on 'shock and awe' to deliver deep penetration bunker busters and precision laser guided weapons is essential to destroy Mehsud's vast underground infrastructure and pave the way for a smooth ground offensive. A determined air chief radiating an aggressive approach, with his team of highly motivated pilots appears ready to lead the PAF into action. The argument that the army needed to consolidate on the Swat front before opening another front so as not to overstretch its resources, does hold some ground. But Operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat is far from being over and is likely to continue in the coming months to hunt the top level Taliban leadership, pursue to kill/capture the retreating militants and prevent the militants from regrouping and launching hit and run attacks on the security forces. Furthermore sufficient time is required to restore the security environment for the return and rehabilitation of IDPs and for life/business to get back to normal under the army's umbrella. Given that Waziristan is the known centre of gravity and headquarters of the TTP, with almost all recent terrorist attacks in Peshawar, Lahore and Islamabad emanating from this area, coupled with growing public sentiment demanding urgent and decisive steps to prevent such attacks, Operation Rah-e-Nijat therefore becomes inescapable and inevitable. Like in Swat, the army must physically capture and occupy all militant strongholds in Waziristan, if militants are to be routed on a permanent basis. With Waziristan's proximity to the Durand Line and the porous border, the routes of infiltration and reinforcements of men and material from Afghanistan must be blocked. Learning from the Swat experience, minimum collateral damage must be ensured by isolating militants from the local population and the use of precision weapons. Unlike Swat, however, where the top most rebel commanders appear to have escaped, Rah-e-Nijat must net the top militant leadership in Waziristan; if this is done the rest will fall easily. But with the element of military surprise washed out earlier in Swat and now in Waziristan, thanks to the country's top leadership that timed the formal announcements of these operations before their foreign tours, the army's job to hunt for Mehsud and crush the militants may become increasingly challenging. As Operation Rah-e-Nijat enters the final preparatory phase, the fast emerging scenario of Mehsud's ex-militant comrades supporting the army's offensive offer exciting prospects in the short-term, leading to more credible intelligence of Mehsud's rapidly shifting whereabouts and his CCC strongholds. But integration of non-state militant actors in state run military operations could spell problems in the future, when the same militant groups would require to be disarmed by the state. For Operations Rah-e-Rast and Nijat to achieve long-term anti-militancy objectives and bring lasting peace and stability in FATA and our Frontier province, it is essential to reduce India's undue influence in Afghanistan. The world must understand that in the past, the coalition achieved its objectives in Afghanistan against then USSR, while India was in the opposite camp. India's presence in Afghanistan is unnecessary as the present coalition forces are resourceful enough to tackle the insurgency in Afghanistan. If the coalition's objective is to support India as a regional power, then the larger goal of eliminating terrorism may be compromised. Reports of US pressures on India to close its notorious Jalalabad consulate will only partially resolve the issue of Indian sponsored militants' infiltration from across the Durand Line, unless and until all such 'consulates network' is dismantled on priority. Respected for his professionalism, Operations Rah-e-Rast and Nijat remain General Kayani's ultimate demonstration of military command, strategy and leadership, the results of which profoundly affect the army's image and the country's future. The country, too, should brace itself for another round of terrorist attacks as the militants are forced against the wall. For once, I am tempted to quote President Zardari's well-coined phrase: "Failure is indeed not an option." In sending the army to Waziristan, the president, too, may rightly have a personal score to settle with Mehsud in BB's Shahadat as the country lost one of its finest leaders. Operation Rah-e-Nijat may be no easy walkover, but final victory rests on those brave young army officers and their men who are ever trained 'Not to question, Why? But to do and Die'. The writer is a retired brigadier. E-mail: