When a violent international criminal suspect is allowed to live a life of luxury in the nation’s central jail, when that suspect happens to be the operational head of a banned militant organization while the nation is in the middle of a raging war against “all shades of terrorism” then it raises serious doubts over the state’s sincerity to the cause.

Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, operational head of Lashker-e-Jhangvi, arrested from a militant training facility, is living as the state’s honoured guest in the infamous Adiala jail. He and his companions are housed in several rooms, where they have access to television, internet and mobile phones as well as the ability to have unlimited visitors, any time of the day, who don’t have to identify themselves, and are afforded complete privacy. Instead of keeping him under constant surveillance, the government has allowed him turn Adiala jail into his personal command centre, where he can monitor the happenings of the world, meet his subordinates, and issue directions; all the while being guarded by policemen on the public’s payroll. The irony is lost on the government. This is not some obscure jailhouse, where such lapses in protocol can be pinned on individual corruption or fear. This is Adalia Jail, a few kilometres away from the GHQ; the military and the government top brass must have tacitly approved of this arrangement, perhaps even ordered it.

How can one trust the government to combat terrorism when terrorists like Lakhvi are afforded such preferential treatment? Why should the international community believe Raheel Sharif when he says there is no distinction between good Taliban and bad Taliban when it seems the military is using a militant as an asset for future use? We are bringing home countless coffins because of the military’s delusion that it could control and channel extremism. We are in a state of sustained hostility with our much larger neighbour, yet we continue to feed the mistrust that is stalling any hope for lasting peace.

The real tragedy is that there was hope that perhaps this time we were turning over a new leaf. The fight against militancy has been the dominant narrative in Pakistan for several months now. For its part the state took the right steps in the right direction – and perhaps a few missteps and oversteps too. The Chief of Army Staff has been a busy man, so has been the Prime Minister. These efforts have been noted and appreciated by foreign governments and multilateral bodies, even those who bemoaned our past lethargy. Yet all of that is undercut by one incident; that shows that when it comes down to brass tacks, principles take a back seat to strategic goals.