Who is fighting whom in Swat, Dir, Buner or Waziristan? Apparently, the Taliban-i-Tehrik Pakistan (TTP) is fighting the army. They seemed to have taken over the administration of these districts in the last year or so and enforced the Shariah there, a law not unknown in the area until the fifties and sixties. Having taken over the administration, they began to run its justice system with the prescribed punishments in Islam. Admittedly, the punishments were severe; but justice was dispensed, enforcing some kind of rule of law. Things carried on in a humdrum sort of way with the government not knowing how to react to the emerging situation that threatened their authority, virtually creating a state within the state. As the authorities weighed between negotiation and forced to deal with the increasing influence of the Taliban, crimes of violence in the country escalated. Terrorists struck all big cities. Five star hotels, police and military installations, markets and other pubic places were struck, seriously disrupting daily life, long cues at security checkposts becoming a constant irritation. The now-on-now-off government negotiation finally resulted in an agreement this summer between the TTP leadership and the government. The agreement collapsed even before the ink had dried, with the government blaming the Taliban of not honouring it. The government decided to carry out a military operation to clear the area of the Taliban and restore its own writ. This approach seemed to have the full support of the liberal establishment in the country. Everybody expected the army to fix the crisis in a matter of weeks if not days. It has now been a few months and the conflict goes on. With military action about to start in Waziristan, the area of conflict is widening. The military is fighting the militants with all the hardware it has including tanks, heavy guns and gunship helicopters. The Pakistan Air Force jets have taken part in the action; it is a full-fledged war that is going on out there. But as the level of conflict escalates, so does the tenacity of the militants. What I believed to be a matter of weeks has now gone on for months and the end is not in sight. In the meanwhile, acts of violence have increased in frequency and intensity. The trauma of an attack on the Police HQ and an ISI facility in Lahore civil lines still fresh, a week ago the militants attacked a five star hotel in Peshawar cantonment almost next to the house of the corps commander. The very next night there was another encounter in the same vicinity. According to rumours, this was actually an attack on the corps commander's residence. Dozens of people died, still more wounded; the hotel was wrecked and other buildings damaged. Mosques have been attacked, killing people in mid-prayer. The terrorist attacks are ruthless but no one really knows who they are and where they came from. An ordinary mortal finds it hard to believe they are Muslims. Are they locals or outsiders? We do not know. What we do know is that they are far from giving up; and no place seems too safe for them to attack. Fear and anxiety is increasing in the atmosphere as the number of innocent civilian casualties goes up. Collateral damage from both sides is pervasive. There is an unending supply, of the suicide bomber, a major weapon of the militants. How is that being managed, and who is behind it? What kind of a genius is so controlling minds that the supply of volunteers is continuous? Also, what we do know is the reality of three million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in this conflict, refugees in their own country who are going through the ignominy of living in camps or the embarrassment of depending on different host communities for survival. All those involved in the humanitarian effort of helping them in this dire crisis (such as the help is) believe the situation is grave. Faced with shelter, health, sanitation problems and a burden of shame, all the IDPs want to know is when will this conflict end? When will they return home? No one has an answer to this question. The president says it is a long haul, the generals say it is a long haul, a former diplomat calls it the thirty years war of Pakistan. This kind of uncertainty and vagueness is bound to affect the political dynamics of this country domestically, regionally and globally. There is fire in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now being lit in Iran. It is difficult to predict the future, but it is clear that the days ahead are dangerous, the friendly promises of help coming out of Washington and Brussels notwithstanding. The Pakistani State and its people are both trapped in this bizarre conflict. But I believe we are getting close to the moment of truth. This so-called war with the Taliban is bound to force approximately 164 million people to think and identify the real issues beyond the present conflict. The writer is a former ambassador at large