We’ve seen the range of emotions in response to the attack on Karachi airport. Shock. Despair. Anger. Determination. Solidarity. Pride and relief at the sight of Pakistan Rangers and security forces charging into battle. As those initial reactions fade, the far uglier postmortem and finger pointing brings about its own much uglier set of battles. Calls for resignations, countered with claims that criticising the authorities is tantamount to siding with the terrorists.

It is a real relief that the TTP has in fact claimed responsibility, because otherwise the rhetorical battle over the ‘whodunnit’ would have been even nastier and stupider. That’s because despite everything that has happened in the last seven years, there is still a powerful spirit of denial that is alive and well in this land. A denial sustained by both the powers that be and the ‘masses,’ neither of whom is in the mood to confront some ugly, inconvenient truths.

#1. The first is that terrorism - the physical violence that threatens us all- is an outgrowth of extremism. The ideas that form the basis of this extremism aren’t smuggled across the border from ‘neighbouring states’ - they are taught in recognised institutions right here, to locals by locals. But you can’t confront ideas without free speech, and the deep state has been busy trying to quash free speech rather than upholding it. In the end free speech challenges not only extremism, but the excesses of every kind of power. The deep state finds the growth of extremism far less threatening than the growth of free speech. Why isn’t the state more worried by extremism? This brings us to ugly truth #2.

#2. Even if they publicly deny it, the deep state still acts as if there is such a thing as a moderate ‘good Taliban’ (which can be managed) and an extremist ‘bad Taliban’ (which must be fought). Militias and groups that do not actually physically attack the state or condemn it too harshly are the ‘good Taliban.’ In places like South Waziristan, they’re freely waved through checkpoints thanks to truce agreements. In south Punjab groups are free to train, recruit and raise funds so long as they don’t cause public embarrassment to the government. Yet the basic attitudes of the people in these groups don’t vary much from those who attack the state. Their incorporation in to the system gives them political power and legitimacy, perhaps even impunity when going against anyone other than the state (we’ve seen this for 30 years in Karachi with a certain party that’s currently going through a rough patch). There is no predicting just when or how today’s tolerated extremists will turn around and join the ranks of the enemies of the state - after all, many of today’s sworn nemeses were once considered ‘assets’ by previous generations of khaki gents. But for the time being there’s only just enough of the ‘bad Taliban’ to ruin the investment climate and sow fear among Pakistanis (who gratefully turn to the state to protect them) - certainly not nearly enough to actually defeat the Army and seize land. This brings us to #3, the one that most directly affects you.

#3. You should be much more worried about the ‘good Taliban’ and their like-minded friends than the ‘bad Taliban.’ If you’re well off enough to be reading this and you’re in an airport, or a nice sector of Islamabad, the state will try to protect you from the baddies. It will immediately send their best trained and toughest men to beat back the attackers and break the siege and rescue hostages. But if the good Taliban (or the ‘could be better Taliban’, or even the ‘not the worst Taliban’) come after you because you belong to a hated group, or for defending the rights of the vulnerable, or for speaking your mind out.....you’re on your own.

So, what can you do? Well, one option is to be silent. Keep your head down, while the foolhardy have theirs taken off. Or we can, together, stand for the freedom of speech, especially when authority figures try to crush it. Stand up together for the vulnerable, and those who defend the vulnerable. Or one day there will be no one to stand up for you when you’re in that airport terminal trying to get on the last flight out. Not even the Rangers.

The writer is a freelance columnist.