This Article appeared in Daily Dawn on May 04th, 2010.

Pakistan is caught in the eye of the storm in the international war on terror. Those involved in this war are reassessing their respective roles after mixed results over the last eight years with many pluses and minuses.

The situation is rapidly evolving in the region with grave consequences for Pakistan. It is a test for the country’s leadership to steer Pakistan to safe shores.

A chequered course has been followed over the last eight years but it was only in 2008 and 2009 that the government realised the seriousness of the situation and decided to confront the monster of terrorism head-on.

It was the media which, by exposing the ideas, character and actions of the terrorists swung public opinion, against anti-state elements and forced the government to act.

In 2009 the armed forces of Pakistan, in a major reorientation, carried out well-conceived operations in Malakand division and South Waziristan Agency, besides some minor operations in Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai agencies. These operations broke the back of militancy and forced the militants to retreat.

Due to the success of these operations the armed forces and the government won accolades both internally and internationally. Because of this and some other factors, the pressure on Pakistan has eased and there is greater realisation regarding Pakistan’s role in the war internationally.

It is no coincidence that the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have published no conspiracy theories about Pakistan for the last three to four months. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s change in attitude at the recently held Saarc conference is also due to Pakistan’s improved international profile.

And yet there is no room for complacency. The situation on the ground is that most of the militant leadership has not been apprehended. In the case of South Waziristan most of the fighters have escaped to neighbouring North Waziristan. The operation in Orakzai has turned into a slow slog.

The terrorists, after a brief pause, have again started attacking ‘soft targets’ in Kohat, Quetta and Peshawar. The insurgents — through targeted killings and suicide attacks in Swat — are reminding the inhabitants that they are not very far away. North Waziristan, particularly Mir Ali sub-division, is becoming a new hub for all sorts of insurgents. Understandably, the army is overstretched and can’t be everywhere. But if the operational momentum of 2009 is not maintained in 2010, then the gains made will be untenable.

The solution lies with the political government both at the federal and provincial levels, which has so far been busy with the 18th Amendment including changing the name of the province, the NRO, etc. It is time that the government came forward to shoulder its responsibilities alongside the army. The army has been in Swat for too long. It cannot catch each and every insurgent both in Swat and South Waziristan.

Once the operation is wrapped up it is time for local traditions and the local administration — including the local police — to take over. Policing and development activities are not the army’s function. Similarly it’s not the job of the army to arrange school functions, sporting events or musical programmes. The political leadership and administration need to come up and shoulder their responsibilities, no matter how challenging the task may be.

It’s time for the Fata administration to end its long vacation. It must also be coerced into closing down the Fata Development Authority (FDA). There is already a planning and development department in the Fata secretariat. The administration is fooling no one but itself. The army must facilitate the induction of a civil administration because it is basically the civil administration which has to deal with issues on the ground.

So far the political leadership and administration have confined themselves to issuing statements after a suicide attack. But it’s really action on the ground which counts and they must come forward to relieve troops for operational tasks and must not expect them to run their administration.

North Waziristan is becoming a new home for anti-state elements and it is only a question of time before the militants become fully operational against the Pakistani state. If the kidnapping of Sultan Amir Tarar (also known as Col Imam), British-born Pakistani journalist Asad Qureshi and the killing of retired squadron leader Khalid Khawaja is deeply analysed, it would appear that Hafiz Gul Bahadur or the TTP for that matter are not that strong and might not be able to prevent a similar incident from taking place in future.

The group calling itself Asian Tigers might signal new trouble for Pakistan. This group reportedly consists of disgruntled elements from the so-called Punjabi Taliban and some expelled elements from the TTP. If they recruit foreigners present in North Waziristan, the situation could become extremely dangerous.

North Waziristan’s location, geography and tribal mix present a very challenging situation for a military operation. And one would like to avoid committing one’s own troops for an operation if it can be helped. But as time passes an operation in North Waziristan will become a requirement and the army may have to bite the bullet again here.

An operation in North Waziristan will need a large number of troops. But as they say: how does one eat an elephant? Dissect it into manageable pieces and eat it. A roller operation all over North Waziristan may not be necessary. The clearance and control of Mir Ali along with some areas of Shiva tehsil may be enough. This will also consolidate our grip on the Mehsud area.

The year 2010 is very crucial for Pakistan and the foreign forces in Afghanistan. The US will be assessing, at the end of the year, whether it should start pulling out in 2011 and Pakistan should be aiming at regaining control of its tribal areas.

The writer is an ex-brigadier, ex-secretary Fata and ex-home secretary Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.