FEW would disagree with President Asif Zardari's statement that the government would negotiate only with those who would not challenge the writ of the state. It is almost impossible that the recent upsurge in violence in Swat and parts of the NWFP would not have unnerved the country's top leadership. What the President was particularly concerned about was the imposition of self-styled Sharia by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in Swat. So far, the extremists have destroyed more than 150 girls' schools in Swat alone. The footage aired by a private TV channel on Thursday, showing militants whipping criminals, bears testimony to the strength these elements are gaining there. However, the way the government intends to fight the miscreants must be laid bare. The three-pronged strategy mentioned by the President to root out the menace of militancy comprises dialogue, development and lastly deterrence. This seems promising and one wishes Mr Zardari Godspeed, but it bears repeating that this is not the first time that the government has been inclined to adopt such a course. In the past what the government had been doing was to merely concentrate on the first D, dialogue and that too without being consistent. It could not go beyond that simply because of lack of seriousness to get to the root of the problem. The second step, that of development, was never given a chance resulting in widespread resentment among the people, who were naturally inclined to think that the government was only interested in a military operation. Nothing tangible has been done to eradicate the rampant poverty, massive unemployment, and the general socio-economic backwardness of these areas. For instance, the government could have allocated or diverted funds in the Budget for the purpose, but sadly enough this remains nothing more than a wish. Had these two steps been taken, there should not have been any need for the third one, the use of force. We have before us the example of Balochistan where violence had subsided considerably after the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire by the militants. But, as ill luck would have it, the government did not cash in on the opportunity. At present, concrete steps are required if the situation is to be brought under control. Besides reining in the rogue elements, the government should give a serious thought to initiate a dialogue with the 'reconcilable' tribesmen and also take steps to rehabilitate over half a million internally displaced persons who are rotting away in makeshift camps that lack basic facilities. Mere force, rather than acting as a palliative, would exacerbate the malady.