Not much can be said that has not already been said. The spate of bombings across Pakistan this week, including in Lahore and at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalander in Sehwan, has left more than 100 people dead. Responsibility for these attacks has been claimed by the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the TTP, and by the so-called Islamic State. These organisations are completely clear about why they are killing innocent men, women, and children; anyone who does not adhere to their parochial interpretation of Islam is an infidel and deserves to be killed. Their ideology is one that does not brook any compromise or accommodation and they will not rest until they have achieved their millinerian objectives.

Contrast this clarity of thinking with the confusion that continues to characterize the narrative regarding terrorism and militancy in Pakistan. People were still lying dead and injured in front of the Punjab Assembly building in Lahore when many took to the airwaves and social media to claim that the bombing was part of a nefarious plan to keep the PSL final from being hosted in the city. The Sindh government’s utter insouciance and incompetence was still being exposed at Sehwan, where a lack of adequate medical facilities compounded a tragedy borne out of avoidable security lapses, when everyone started tripping over themselves to pin the blame on India and Afghanistan. The prize for insight must undoubtedly go to the PTI and its MPA Murad Raas, who wasted no time in arguing (and continuing to argue) that the attacks had been orchestrated to deflect attention away from the Panama Papers Case.

The attacks generated the usual parade of talking heads on television, with ‘senior’ analysts sagely informing us that the violence was once again part of a global conspiracy to destroy Pakistan. The powers-that-be were also quick to spring into action; within two days, press releases were issued telling us that more than 100 terrorists had been killed across the country. Who were these people? We do not know. Were they previously known to the authorities? One can only assume that they were, given that action was taken against them so quickly. Why was something not done about them before? Why was there no attempt to arrest them or try them according to the law? These are the wrong questions to be asking; all that matters is that something was done.

Foreign hands, scores of dead terrorists, security alerts, pledges of vengeance, none of this is new. Like Sisyphus, we appear to be condemned to forever relive our agony, trapped in an endless cycle of violence and retribution Matters are not helped by the injuries we continue to inflict on ourselves, crippled as we are by an utterly contradictory, self-defeating and, most importantly, self-deluding approach to fighting terror. Conspiracy theories are a national passion in Pakistan, with their greatest downside being a tendency to attribute events to forces beyond our collective control. By constantly insisting that we have nothing to do with terrorism on our soil, by absolving ourselves of any guilt or need for introspection, we are slowly capitulating to an enemy we have stubbornly refused to properly identify, let alone fight.

Extremism does not exist in a vacuum. How could it not be strengthened in an environment where the ideas that underpin are accorded respectability? How could it not become a threat in a context where those who champion it are aided and abetted, in speech and action, by individuals and organisation who loudly and proudly proclaim their virulent agenda? How could it not spread when confronted by a state that continues to turn a blind eye to it, mistakenly convinced that it will be able to control the forces it once unleashed in its pursuit of broader strategic objectives?

Are India and Afganistan to blame for the latest terror attacks in Pakistan? Maybe. It is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility to suggest they might be involved. But can they be blamed for the presence of sectarian organisations that openly preach their hatred and vow to rain death and destruction upon their religious opponents? Are foreign powers responsible for the continued existence of madrassahs and training camps indoctrinating the next generation of ‘holy’ warriors? Are Pakistan’s neighbours behind media campaigns that often promote and glorify the worst forms of bigotry and intolerance in their constant quest for ratings? Is the mysterious ‘foreign’ hand at work when ‘banned’ organisations hold rallies in the country’s capital and their leaders meet with ministers and members of parliament?

Pakistan has to put its own house in order, and must do so by recognizing how religious intolerance and bigotry, permitted for too long in the name of expediency, practicality, and national security, must be confronted if the scourge of terrorism is to be defeated. This is not a battle that will be won by sending more troops to different parts of the country; it is also a battle of ideas and of values, and it cannot be fought without a concerted effort to undo the pernicious effects of mistaken state policies and a broader social environment in which extremism thrives.

Of course, this is unlikely to happen. Instead, we have the usual list of absurdities that pass for priorities in the Land of the Pure; in the same week that Lahore and Sehwan lay bleeding, the government all that it could in its power to stop people celebrating Valentine’s Day, arresting people selling balloons and deploying the full might of the state to harass and intimidate anyone who might threaten the moral fabric of society by interacting with a member of the opposite sex. That the state would seek to trample all over expressions of love while ignoring hatred and violence really tells you all you need to know about the state of affairs in Pakistan.