It was inevitable, no matter how much the PML-N leadership tried to ignore it; an operation in Punjab was necessary, and now one is underway – it took the death of another 72 citizens for that to become clear. A day after the deadly attacked that rocked Lahore, the Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif announced the decision – seemingly unilaterally – that a wide ranging operation will be conducted in all regions of Punjab.

Just like APS, we witness another knee-jerk reaction and another sweeping declaration of “never again”. Once again those at the top were caught unawares, and the following reaction – from Shahbaz Sharif’s passionate speech while donating blood, to Nawaz Sharif’s cancellation of the US trip – seems like political grandstanding. The military fares no better; despite tall claims of being in ‘the closing stages’ of the operation it has been unable to stop terrorist attacks. Where was the infamous ISI or the Military Intelligence, why is it never held accountable for its lapses? The military’s subsequent actions are no less contrived; a “suspect” being paraded around as a confirmed perpetrator and a string of arrests right after the attack, which begs the question why weren’t these people arrested before.

That being said, the operation is welcome. While this step is surely the need of the time, a “military operation” in the vein of one being conducted in FATA was not needed, in fact any operation involving the military wasn’t needed. The problems of Punjab are different than FATA’s, and civilian law enforcement agencies could have handled it just as well; the fact that the military had to be called speaks volumes about the government’s failure.

Punjab’s extremists are not gun-toting fighters terrorising the land. A military presence – specifically its superior firepower and expertise in combat – is not required. Punjab has a much more nefarious problem; a powerful and politically well-connected network that fosters extremist thought. Here the target doesn’t roam the battlefield; it sits in government offices, runs visible and popular “charitable organisations”, declaims from TV channels and takes out rallies with thousands of men in tow. Even now, these Punjabi extremists sit out in the open in front of Parliament, and the government is powerless to stop them.

The military presence will certainly help in clearing out the isolated madrassas and terrorist safe havens in South Punjab, but beyond that government policymaking, legislation, legal prosecution, narrative building and a serious application of NAP is required – and the government is too afraid to do this. Perhaps this is why the military is needed; they have anonymity where the government doesn’t. Even still, the operation can only go the grunt work – arrest, investigate and protect – the rest lies with the civilian government.