Pakistan’s terrorism crisis has morphed into an existential nightmare.
Pakistan celebrated its national day last Wednesday with a full military parade in Islamabad, for the second consecutive year. The event used to be a routine matter until the Taliban’s Pakistani offshoot launched a bloody insurgency that has killed more than 70,000 people since 2007.
The ensuing crisis simply made it unsafe to stage the only open-air event attended by the country’s political and military leadership.
The resumption last year of the Pakistan Day parade reflected the marked improvement in security conditions, following the launch of a nationwide counteroffensive in 2014, and provided an important boost to national morale. The same was the case this year, with the government declaring that the counteroffensive was drawing to a successful conclusion.
Those declarations of “mission accomplished” were exposed as hollow half-truths by the suicide bombing attack on an amusement park in the populous eastern city of Lahore on Sunday.
Certainly, the military counteroffensive has deprived the Pakistan Taliban of its territorial strongholds in the tribal areas bordering eastern Afghanistan, just as intelligence-led operations in Karachi and other cities have disrupted urban terrorist activity.
Victory in the territorial war
However, those operations were launched belatedly and the insurgents had years to prepare for that inevitability, so most went into hiding or relocated to the other side of the Afghan border before the opening shots of the counteroffensive were fired.
An honest Pakistani state would have informed the public that great progress has been made, but that victory in the territorial war would come at the cost of a lengthy campaign of terrorist attacks that would last for many years.
An honest Pakistani state would have informed the public that great progress has been made, but that victory in the territorial war would come at the cost of a lengthy campaign of terrorist attacks...
A wise Pakistani state would have encouraged public examination of the political mistakes and socioeconomic conditions that have fuelled the insurgency, so that the nation could come to terms with its greatest tragedy since the loss of its eastern wing, modern-day Bangladesh, in 1971.
Indeed, a brave Pakistan state would have swept aside the false narratives that have long corrupted national politics and returned to the high moral ground upon which Mohammed Ali Jinnah founded the country in 1947.
Simply stated, Pakistan was to be a country guided by a constitution and laws, and the government’s primary responsibility was to ensure the rights of its citizenry.
Unfortunately, if predictably, the Pakistani state is held hostage by its inability to admit its fallibility, as demonstrated by the blame-shifting exercise that persists, to this day, on all matters of national importance, including security.
After Sunday’s horrific attack in Lahore, Pakistan’s raucous broadcast and social media were ablaze with accusations that it was the fault of the “civilian institutions”, or caused by the diversion of police resources to protect visiting opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto, or retaliation for the recent arrest of an alleged Indian spy.
In their rush to point fingers, most influential personalities forgot to mention the Pakistan Taliban – unless in the context of a wider foreign conspiracy.
That mindset, more than any terrorist faction or foreign covert threat, is Pakistan’s biggest problem, because it is easily exploitable. A nation can only move forward with common purpose when it is reconciled with its past and has forged a shared identity.
However, the resultant unity entails vigorous accountability of all pillars of the state, which makes it undesirable to those preoccupied with power and its exploitation for selfish ends, particularly corruption. Thus they are primarily engaged in hogging credit and deflecting responsibility, rather than addressing the root causes of terrorism.
Sadly, that description equally fits all pillars – elected government, the military, bureaucracy, judiciary or my colleagues in the Pakistani media.
The state’s duplicity
Naturally, the terrorists use the state’s duplicity against it. Attacks on soft targets such as the amusement park in Lahore undermine public trust in the state, thereby preventing a singular rejection of the terrorists and their pseudo-Islamist ideology.
Indeed, the Lahore attack took place as thousands of extremists tore through Islamabad to protest against the execution of a policeman who murdered Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, in 2011 because he called for the reformation of blasphemy laws repeatedly abused to victimise Pakistan’s non-Muslim minorities.
Unsurprisingly, the protesters felt no obligation to suspend their march out of respect for the victims of the attack in Lahore.
Thus the public response to the Lahore attack has been a mixture of anger, fear and panic.
Late on Sunday, private schools announced that they would be closed on Monday because of the dubious security situation. Even if they hadn’t closed, parents were unlikely to have sent their children to school, because of the lack of leadership or an honest narrative from the state.
The Pakistan Taliban may have lost the war, but it is being handed propaganda victories on a platter, at the cost of many innocent lives.
Tom Hussain is a journalist and Pakistan affairs analyst based in Islamabad.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.