Heavy fighting continues in the Tirah area of Khyber Agency as the armed forces clash with militants affiliated with the terrorist Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) group. The ongoing Operation Khyber-II is aimed at clear militant strongholds in the agency, especially the Tirah Valley where militants led by Mangal Bagh have enjoyed control for several years. The LI recently entered into a formal alliance with the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In November last year, militants in Tirah Valley publicly beheaded a man accusing him of spying for security forces, which just goes on to show how necessary it is for the state to regain control of the territory.

ISPR has claimed that so far 80 militants have been killed while seven soldiers, including Major Gulfam, also lost their lives. However, certain reports suggest that the number of deceased soldiers could be higher. COAS General Raheel Sharif visited the injured troops and praised them for their sacrifices. Such gestures by the military leadership certainly help in keeping morale high. It is important to convey to those fighting for the country that their services are being acknowledged and that the nation is grateful.

Perhaps the political leadership could do better on this front. There is more to it than issuing a couple of overused token statements. There is a war going on, but it certainly doesn’t appear so considering how little the government has done to build a narrative to own and assist the ongoing military action. Visit the families of martyrs, thank them for their sacrifices, and remind everyone why they are being made in the first place. Acknowledge and celebrating heroes is one of the many ways to counter villains. As the government of a country that continues to suffer from confusion and distractions, it should be a source of clarity and be able to provide a direction for the future. Unfortunately, the political leadership is falling short of what it is required to do.

As far as the Khyber Agency is considered, despite stiff opposition, the military is advancing steadily despite overtaking key positions previously occupied by militants. Verification of reports from independent sources remains a serious problem owing to the media’s lack of access to the region. There is a need to devise a mechanism which would allow reporters some level of access to high-action areas. It is certainly not unheard of. Similar to other areas where operations have been carried out, thousands of families have been displaced, who need to be looked after. On this front too, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government and the federal government need to do more. Shifting blame doesn’t help the IDPs.