Over a hundred dead in six separate attacks across four provinces in the space of a week. It is clear now, our self-congratulatory declarations of victory were premature. More than two years have passed since the APS Peshawar attack, and it seems the nation is back where it started; a citizenry reeling under an unprecedented wave of terror, and the security regime vowing "never again".
The COAS has told us – as he should – that "each drop of the nation's blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone". This is undoubtedly the right sentiment and the tone to strike after this spate of attacks, but one is bound to question, why was there 'restraint' in the first place? Where were the gaps, and what will be done now that was not done after APS, after Gulshan-e-Iqbal, after Charsadda, after Parachinar?
No one doubts the sincerity of the security regime when it comes to eradicating terrorism, but there are kinks in the system that make us do a double take. The military operation was never taken to its logical end; Punjab was ignored for being an unmanageable political labyrinth, and "useful" religious narrative still finds traction in high places. The pressure on the religio-seminary complex – the spawning pool of these terrorists – was dropped, by the government and the military too. Major religious parties were allowed to chant "death to Ahmedis" on national forums, and hate speech was ignored. Perhaps worse of all, the state was refocused towards countering "liberal critics" and radical elements allowed to exist in Pakistan were using accusations of blasphemy and treason, equating powerless peaceniks to the monsters that are blowing up our cities.
The state became complacent, and the ruling party, which never had much enthusiasm to begin with, dropped the ball on the National Action Plan due to cowardice and ineptitude – only a few months ago it was found schmoozing up to religious ideologues whose worldview calls for violent deaths to the kind of people who were present at the Sehwan shrine. This is a hard war to fight and the above mentioned mistakes only make pinpointing the enemy harder, mistakenly giving them a nebulous, half-good half-bad character.
As the immediate nationwide crackdown claims to have killed 25 militants, it is clear that the war against militancy has been taken up another notch. The Sehwan attack has been claimed by IS, but the same regional groups keep shifting allegiances – they are within our reach to eliminate and much less of a monolithic entity than we think they are. As always, the public is fully behind the security forces. They must not be hesitant, nor must they tolerate any apologism for religious militancy if they want to go down in history as the saviours that we believe they are.