Don’t be fooled. This is not a decisive moment. Not of the kind we were hoping to see anyways. Yesterday, as on previous days, reports emerged of more terrorist hideouts being targeted in North Waziristan. This time in Hangu. Nine Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) terrorists were killed during a gunship helicopter attack on Saturday. Along with the official tally of the death toll though, came the TTP response. Not in gunfire, but in familiar propaganda: the Pakistan Army was accused of holding women and children hostage. Swiftly a denial was issued, by none less than the DG ISPR, in a press conference; luckily backed by a separate press release from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, backing the claim of the army spokesperson. The incident serves as a good example of how a military operation, without announced and unabashed intent, will be won or lost not just on the field, but in the headlines.

None will mourn the nine killed in Hangu, but there are questions that must be answered for observers to be reassured, that this is something beyond retaliatory attacks. For one, the location of hideouts has not been a secret; does the fact that they are being targeted now display a shift in policy from differentiating between good and bad Taliban, to having a zero tolerance approach? Is the Prime Minister’s silence on the issue a refusal to pander to Taliban apologists, or an admission of letting the army lead the civilians on this one? Is the all-too-easy societal sympathy for the religious manipulation offered by the TTP to be countered through any strategy? No one really knows.

What seems clear at the moment, is that these strikes are damage control, in the face of a devastating spate of attacks and the beheading of 35 abducted FC personnel in the last few weeks. Have the scores of lives lost really convinced us that this is a battle worth fighting? Unfortunately that would be too easy. Anger precipitates action, but beating back the TTP this time — and stopping short of eliminating their support network throughout the country — is just paving the way for more attacks, more opportunities to get angry, more retaliatory attacks and more pessimistic editorials. For things to really change, someone has to make a plan more detailed than just gunship helicopter formations. This is not a conventional war, it cannot be won just on the field. Winning hearts and minds may be a cliche, but it’s not a bad idea.