In the aftermath of the tragic events of Army Public School Peshawar, and the resulting All Parties Conference, our political and military leadership has been patting itself on the back for having forged a new ‘national consensus’ for eradicating extremism from our society. To the extent of military action and terrorist hangings, there can be no denial that we, as a nation, are riding a fresh wave of national resolve. However, peering through the maze of appearances, a closer look at our society would reveal that extremism (in all its forms), is still alive and kicking in Pakistan.

The malady of violence that inflicts our nation is deeper and more perverse than a localized cancer in the north-west region of the country. The poison, as a result of three decades of duplicitous policies, has seeped into our societal bloodstream, and infects the entire national corpus. And, therefore, the treatment of this poisonous cancer cannot be restricted to a localized surgical operation; we need a counter-terrorism strategy that will confront and eliminate extremism in every street, corner, or mosque across our land.

Such a counter terrorism strategy – nay, counter terrorism resolve! – cannot be restricted to merely the legislative and administrative domain. There is no policy document that we can write, no legislative instrument that we can enact, no administrative step that we can take, which will, in itself, be sufficient to quarantine our society from intolerance and bloodshed. Because the menace of extremism does not stem from our laws or policies: it emanates itself from a cultural ideology that views disagreement as animosity, and meets dissent with disdain. It is a culture that teaches us to confront fellow citizens as enemies – not to be met with cooperation, but instead with conquest. Not to be befriended, but instead to be subjugated and mastered.

Before any of us fold our arms and shake our head in disagreement, believing that we (as individuals) do not ascribe to this culture or associate with such individuals, let us pause for a moment and observe some of the recent developments, which would expose our hypocrisy.

Our nation, over the past few days, has been abuzz with revelations about MQM, made in a report submitted by Pakistan Rangers (before the honorable Sindh High Court), regarding the Baldia Town factory inferno case. This report, prepared by a Joint Investigation Team, quotes explicit sources, conversations, and events that implicate the MQM leadership for ordering the said factory to be burnt (killing at least 258 workers), when the factory owners refused to pay Rs. 200 million as bhatta (extortion money). And in the aftermath, MQM’s leadership as well as supporters, have come out swinging to defend their party. This, while being bad enough, is not the problem. The real issue of concern is the fact that countless individuals across our nation, who are not members or supporters of MQM, continue to tolerate, associate with and befriend those who have come out in defense of the party’s action.

Similarly, while most of us (hopefully!) oppose Mumtaz Qadri and his actions, the murderer is still being defended by two former judges of the honorable High Courts: judges who continue to command ‘respect’ and ‘honor’ in our society. Regular members of the bar – individuals who we meet in courtrooms, dinners, wedding celebrations, and social occasions – continue to garland the cold-blooded murderer. And the rest of us, even as we oppose Mumtaz Qadri, continue to make space in our lives for those who support the bloodshed perpetrated by this self appointed savior of our religion.

Even while groups such as Sipah-e-Sahiba, Jamat-ud-Dawa, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are banned in our laws, we still make space for individuals such as Hafiz Saeed to grace and commemorate Kashmir Day. Even as we condemn the past policies of Zia-ul-Haq, we continue to invite General Hameed Gul to our talk shows and political rallies. Even as we abhor the fanatical molvi who leads the Jumma prayer in our local mosque, we continue to tolerate his fiefdom at the corner of our street, just so long as he does not come barging into our homes.

This, and much more, is the real counter terrorism challenge in our country. Of course, we have the military might to overpower the rebels near Afghan border; of course we have the administrative muscle to hang those who have been convicted by our Courts; of course we have the legislative competence to enact laws that create special courts, or ban militant outfits. But all of it will just be for show unless we confront the enemy that resides in our streets and towns. No condemnation of the APS Peshawar attack would amount to much change, till such time that Maulana Abdul Aziz continues to enjoy his dominion over Lal Masjid. No political consensus or resolve would be of any use, so long as we continue to donate five rupees to the Jamat-ud-Dawa charity box outside Namaz-e-Eid. And no JIT report would bear any fruit, until we continue to invite defenders of Baldia Town factory inferno, into our homes.

It is time that we stop congratulating ourselves for an elusive ‘national resolve’, and start focusing on confronting the evil that resides amongst us.

If the eternal promise of good prevailing over the evil, in the final analysis, is true (which it must be); if one day we will all find ourselves face to face with our Creator, and be confronted with unadulterated truth (which we certainly will); if eternity, at the death of stars, will require each of us to account for our time on this planet (which it inescapably will); then it will be no justification to say that we looked the other way. That we knew who the enemy was, and still welcomed it in our lives. That we did not kill, but only tolerated the murderer. That we did not become evil, only transacted with it.

Fixing this hypocrisy, and confronting the enemy within, is the only counter terrorism strategy that can hem the rot in our national fabric.