IN what appears to have been another so-called intelligence-based operation, a raid on the outskirts of Lahore this week resulted in the death of at least four militants linked, according to security officials, to the banned groups Al Qaeda and TTP. The militants had allegedly travelled from Wana, South Waziristan, to Lahore to attack multiple targets in Punjab, demonstrating yet again that the long war against militancy is a national war that will ebb and flow until the state has both a winning strategy and the relentless determination to implement it. The basic difference between a long-term winning strategy and the recent successes against militancy — since Operation Zarb-i-Azb began last year, the counter-insurgency campaign in Fata has been actively complemented by counterterrorism operations in the provinces — is that the state has not really gone beyond the disruption and dismantling of terrorist cells. Where the intelligence learns of an imminent terrorist attack or uncovers a cell of militants, action is duly taken — and as a result several attacks have been foiled and many militants captured or eliminated.
Yet, that approach does little to address the militancy threat in its many dimensions. Terrorist networks do not exist in isolation — from funding to transport and from hideouts to indoctrination, any given militant group exists and operates with the help of a number of supporting actors. That much-needed support often comes from various elements of society itself — charitable donations, overnight accommodation, providing space to recruit and indoctrinate and other seemingly ancillary tasks are all often provided by aiders and abettors, who may not strap on a suicide vest themselves but help ensure that militancy remains the foremost security threat the country faces today. Where, despite rhetorical claims by government and military officials, is the attempt to shut down the infrastructure of jihad, the mosque-madressah-social welfare network that both sustains and hides militants? True, a declining state in terms of capacity to deal with the scale of the problem and the size of the population is part of the challenge. But there is also the unwillingness to recognise that as once militant groups morphed and overlapped, so they do so today. The raid outside Lahore unsurprisingly found elements of TTP and Al Qaeda collaborating. Few would be surprised if the so-called pro-state militants are secretly collaborating with the TTP and other anti-state militants. Zero tolerance remains the only option.