Looking back at the events of 2014, it is possible to discern a familiar pattern of frustration and tragedy. Hundreds of people died in terrorist attacks and sectarian killings across Pakistan, from Wagah to Quetta and Peshawar to Karachi. The practice of killing women for ‘honour’ continued unabated, with one victim, Farzana Iqbal, being bludgeoned to death by her own family in front of the Lahore High Court. This happened soon after the tragic death of an 18 year old rape victim in Muzaffargarh who set herself ablaze after months of trying to convince an unsympathetic police force to investigate her case and arrest her assailants. Elsewhere, the whereabouts of Pakistan’s ‘missing persons’ remained unknown, with their families continuing to struggle incessantly, if futilely, to be reunited with their loved ones. The state also continued its crackdown on dissent, with twelve peaceful activists from Gilgit Baltistan being sentenced to life in prison, blind protestors in Lahore being savagely beaten by the police, and the infamous Model Town incident in which 14 members of the PAT were killed as a result of a heavy-handed attempt to prevent them from taking to the streets. 2014 also saw another drought and famine in Thar, as well as Pakistan earning the dubious distinction of becoming the global epicenter of polio, with health workers being killed for attempting to administer vaccines in an environment where militant groups portrayed their activities as being part of a Western conspiracy aimed at emasculating the country’s Muslim population. All of this took place amidst continuing shortages of electricity and gas, rising inflation and inequality, and anemic economic performance.

What was the collective political response to all of this? For all intents and purposes, there was none. Ironically enough, all the sound and fury generated by the constant contestation of the PML-N, PTI, and PAT yielded little in terms of meaningful, tangible reform for the people of Pakistan. There was always little reason to believe the PML-N, a right-wing party committed to the pursuit of elite interests and the maintenance of the status quo, would undertake a programme of radical change. The same, however, proved to be true of the party’s principal antagonists; looking past the slogans and the rallies, the ideologically barren politics of the PTI did little to differentiate it from the other mainstream parties, and the involvement of the PAT simply lent credence to the belief that the military establishment was making use of the instability to cut the civilian government down to size in the context of the Musharraf trial and the prospect of more normalized ties with India.

Notwithstanding allegations of rigging, the elections of 2013 at least brought with them the hope that Pakistan might finally start its slow but necessary transition to democracy. The events of this past year, however, have demonstrated that such optimism was probably premature. Starting with Zarb-i-Azb, and more recently in the aftermath of the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, the military has once again asserted its dominance over the realms of national security and foreign policy, rendering the already weakened civilian government ineffectual. While there are many who have welcomed the more explicit role being played by the military in the fight against terrorism, there remains considerable reason to be wary. The argument that the police cannot be expected to fight terrorism, the creation of military courts to deal with terrorism cases civilian courts are apparently incapable of handling, and the unquestioning endorsement of the military’s actions in FATA, Balochistan, and elsewhere, all represent troubling developments that are likely to further skew the civil-military balance in Pakistan.

The popular narrative that has emerged post-Peshawar is one that echoes familiar tropes from Pakistan’s history; civilian politicians are corrupt and incompetent, ‘foreign hands’ are fomenting unrest in Pakistan, and only the military can save the country. This has been accompanied by a blind, entirely uncritical acceptance of the information released by the military, as well as the practices it has adopted in the war against terrorism. Statistics on the number of ‘militants’ killed in Zarb-i-Azb are rehashed without any attempt to determine who was killed, why they were killed, or whether or not there were any innocents caught in the crossfire. This has been matched by a more poisonous tendency this past week in which the media and government have chosen to demonize ‘Afghan refugees’ and people from FATA as the front of all terror in Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, this stereotyping has been accompanied by virtually no efforts to improve the lives of the people of FATA or to extend to them the same rights and privileges, such as they are, that are enjoyed by the other citizens of Pakistan. Meanwhile, JUD, ASWJ, and all the usual suspects continue to go about their business untroubled by official claims that the government will no longer distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.

All of this is important given that the military has been directly and indirectly responsible for many of Pakistan’s contemporary problems. It was the military establishment’s paranoia vis-à-vis India, and its desire for ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, that facilitated the nurturing of Islamist militants within Pakistan’s borders. Similarly, it is the military’s continuous involvement in politics that has eviscerated the civilian, democratic institutions that are now being subjected to so much criticism. At a time when the nation appears to finally be reaching a consensus on the need to fight terrorism, it is important that the activities of the military be subjected to more scrutiny, not less.

It is clear that decisive action needs to be taken to address the problem of terrorism and militancy in Pakistan. Yet, the desire for action should not trump the need for transparency and careful consideration of the path taken in pursuit of these objectives. Rather than giving the military and the government the right to do as they please, it is important to continue asking critical questions simply because that is the best way to ensure the follies of the past are not repeated. The ongoing protests against the Red Mosque in Islamabad have done much to highlight the limits to the military and government’s commitment to fighting extremism; a similar level of scrutiny needs to be brought to bear on actions undertaken in FATA, Balochistan, and elsewhere. As a new year dawns on Pakistan, it would also be good to remember that while the fight against terrorism is a necessary and urgent one, it should not be taken as an excuse to forget about the need to think about, and work on, the myriad other problems the country faces.

The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.