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STAY GROUNDED

With the troops firmly marching into North Waziristan, Pakistanís Zarb-i-Azb, as the countryís latest anti-militancy operation in the region has been named, may have finally got off the ground. Twice before, such a show of intent had been withheld in the fond hope that heart-to-heart talks were all that was needed to convince the Taliban to give up the gun. Pakistan had thought it sufficient to restrict the operations to aerial bombings of militant hideouts. What forced its hands were the reprehensible attacks on civilian targets recently that created a public mood similar to the one in 2008-09 that had driven the State to undertake one of its most successful counter-insurgency operations in Swat. This time, though, the Pakistan civilian authority appears to be consciously trying to build up its own narrative on the anti-terror operation. Among the many remarkable aspects is Pakistanís claim of full ownership of policy and action. The fact that no foreign drones are associated with the operation has helped it escape the stigma of doing Americaís bidding. Then there is the rather solicitous wooing of Afghanistan to be a part of the mission. Given that the two neighbours are constantly at loggerheads, blaming each other of providing sanctuaries for the militants, this is an encouraging step designed to show the governmentís sincerity. Last, but not the least, is the declaration from the Pakistan army itself that no distinction is being made between the good and bad Taliban, and that there is every intention to extend the North Waziristan mission to other parts of Pakistan.

Despite the pronouncements, the government has been unable to rid the public mind of doubts that are growing with every passing day. What has brought the operation under a cloud is the complete lack of planning on the handling of the internally-displaced people. Concern for their plight is already generating a counter-opinion on the operation. There are also doubts about both its efficacy and its sustainability, given the previous experience in Swat that saw prized militants flee the dragnet and reconsolidate their hold later on. The encouragement received by radical groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba to carry out humanitarian work is also clouding perceptions. It is entirely the responsibility of the Pakistan government to clear the air in order to sustain public goodwill.