The incessant debate and media furore seems to have done its job. The much demanded “Punjab operation” is underway, albeit under the auspices of a new nationwide military operation to root out terrorists. On Wednesday, Pakistan Army launched ‘Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad’ across the country according to a statement by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the army’s media wing. The operation’s name translates roughly to ‘elimination of unrest’, and it is hoped that it truly lives up to that promise.

For it to do that, the decisiveness that was demonstrated in Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the tribal land on the eastern borders must be replicated all over the country, and especially in its urban centres. By the brief outline released by the ISPR, this operation encompasses several distinct aspects of fighting terror, and as such is a completely different undertaking from the previous ones. This is not solely limited to rooting out terrorist strongholds in far flung regions – all though it may still come to that – since that aspect of counter-terrorism was effectively dealt by the previous regime. Instead of using heavy military assets like fighter jets to bomb the militants out of their hideouts, the army now has to use specialised ground forces in intelligence led operations inside densely populated regions. This is a difficult task, and the military should be fully prepared.

So far, the deployment of 2000 Rangers in Punjab has been approved by the federal government and authority given to Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) to assist in these missions. This is a highly positive step, but to make the operation of the Rangers even more effective, their numbers need to be increased, the assets allocated to them should be increased, and the various anti-terror agencies to be brought together and optimised for smooth cooperation.

Ultimately, this is a question of how dedicated the state is to the elimination of this deadly menace. It is very easy for the Rangers deployment to morph into basic patrol duty of sensitive installations. While that too is necessary, terrorist networks and support systems need to be aggressively rooted out – anything less is a temporary fix.

While we are talking about long term solutions we must also analyse the role of the civilian government in this. The National Action Plan (NAP) was supposed to accompany Zarb-e-Azb, but that end of the project was let down by a government afraid to push on the religio-seminary complex too hard, and one that was waylaid by the Panamagate scandal. There is still time for it to reverse this failure – and it absolutely has to considering the fear and pain that is gripping the nation.

The last operation reduced violent extremism significantly – this one must push it over the edge.