When the police mounted a fiasco of an operation to capture Chotu gang in the Rojhan-Rajanpur riverine area earlier this April – and had to be eventually bailed out by the military – the whole nation was riveted to the dramatic proceedings. The ‘operation in Punjab’ was an essential part of the political vernacular, and many hoped that the attentions of the government will finally be turned to the extremists in the more populated areas of the country.

This was sadly not to be. Talks of the operation petered out in the midst of rumored disagreements between civilian and military agencies over primacy of responsibilities. The media was fed numbers of people arrested and charged, while any other qualitative assessment was ignored.

Just as the Gulshan-e-Iqbal attack in Lahore sparked the initial interest, the Quetta hospital attack has reenergised the authorities to act – this time hopefully for a more effective stint.

The Punjab police and excise departments are jointly getting underway a combing operation in the province from next week to get a line on anti-state elements hidden in residential localities – starting from the south. Meanwhile security agencies of the military want to tighten the noose around the ‘influential facilitators’ of terrorism in Punjab, partially based on information gleaned from Chotu himself.

While the advent of these policies must be commended – as they were long overdue – the scope and mandate of these must be thoroughly examined.

The government-sponsored “combing operation” is described as a “door to door” search for subversive elements, aided by a directory of property-owners to match the current occupants against. A valiant notion surely, but past such exercises – most notably in Karachi – have devolved into a dramatic show rather than effective operation. The police walk through the streets en masse, making a ruckus, while knocking on doors and looking for signs of “Taliban”. Genuine outlaws are given enough of a forewarning to escape, while unsuspecting civilians with unlicensed firearms or incomplete documents are rounded up and taken into custody.

The search may provide some results, but on its own it is bad policy-making.

The combing operation must be combined with a military – or at least the militarised wing of the police – supported, intelligence-guided raid mechanism, through which known ‘influential facilitators’ and terror cells are eradicated. Conducting high risk military operation in populated areas isn’t going to be easy – or without collateral damage – but a pedestrian door to door search is not going to cut it either.

These operations need to be undertaken now, before another bombing startles us into action.