On Thursday, the country’s security forces launched an attack on militant hideouts in several areas of North Waziristan Agency (NWA), including Mir Ali, Miranshah, Datta Khel, Matchis Camp, Boya and Degan. The military offensive comprised of aerial bombing by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets, gunship helicopters and troops on ground, who have surrounded areas known to host militants belonging to various terrorist groups. For the first time, Pakistani-made surveillance drones were also used during the exercise. Whether this is the beginning of a comprehensive operation in the troubled areas or another retaliatory action, which typically ends in a few days, remains unknown.

For months now, the government of Pakistan has been attempting to negotiate with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) without any success. During the last month, there has been an increase in attacks targeting security personnel as well as citizens. Most recently, a Chinese tourist was kidnapped, and a Taliban-linked group claimed responsibility. Militant hideouts that have been targeted by the security forces are also said to host terrorists affiliated with the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (EMIT) – a terrorist group comprising of Uzbeks and Uighurs which is responsible for carrying out activities in China’s north-western region, Xinjiang. Possibly, pressure from the Chinese has played some role in the armed forces’ decision to act.

There is no arguing with the fact that the tribal areas of Pakistan need to be cleared by the security forces. Safe havens for various terrorists groups, which present an imminent threat to the security of other countries as well as Pakistan need to be taken out. However, large-scale operations cannot be conducted without proper planning and political ownership. Hundreds of families have already evacuated their homes and are headed towards safer areas. What sorts of preparations have been made to accommodate these internally displaced people (IDPs)? Who will take responsibility for providing them with food, shelter, clothes and medical care until they can return to their homes? Poor arrangements undermine the entire exercise, and serve as a propaganda tool for TTP apologists.

The second major problem is the government’s unwillingness to come forward in support of the military offensive. Those who propagate civilian supremacy must remember that their words amount to nothing if they choose to remain silent when they are required to speak up and lead. Previously as well as now, the government has nothing to say on the matter. One wonders if anyone even sought permission from the government prior to the operation. Is dialogue still the top priority? If so, then how does the military action in NWA help the ‘cause’? Soldiers cannot be dying on one side while the political leadership contemplates open-ended negotiation with terrorists. Are we looking at a two-pronged talk-talk fight-fight strategy from the government or is this what no-policy-at-all looks like?